On the afternoon of May 3, Glenn Dobson looked out on his porch and saw pure chaos.
His neighbours were cramming as much of their stuff into trucks and cars, only to spend hours on the highway while wondering if they still had a home. A police officer was telling everyone to leave as acrid, black smoke blocked the sky. His wife had already left to join their son in Oklahoma. Dobson’s thoughts?
“They can take their evacuation order and stick it up their back side,” he said to himself. “Fort McMurray has been my home for 41 years. I’m not going anywhere. I have to protect it.”
So Dobson, who would celebrate his 53rd birthday hiding from the police, stayed.
As thousands of Fort McMurray’s residents scattered across the country, fleeing a fire that destroyed as many as 2,400 buildings, Dobson stayed in his Glenoble Crescent mobile home in Gregoire.
At first, family and friends called him crazy and stubborn, pleading with him to leave. His wife was furious.
But he argued he had everything he needed: a freezer packed with moose meat, dozens of eggs, some milk, a few gallons of water, two cases of beer and gasoline for his generator. Even though the flames were a few blocks away, he argued they would not jump into the park.
Besides, he said, he had responsibilities. If the park caught on fire, he would battle the flames with his power washer. And if he ran into any looters, "they would have prayed for Saudi Arabian justice." Fortunately, neither of those scenarios happened.
“I am not a survivalist whack job. I am a guy who is self-sufficient, knows his way around the bush and is always prepared,” he said. “There was only one day when the air made my eyes sting. I was able to handle the smoke.”
Even when the Air Quality Health Index reached a 51 out of a possible 10, he insists the air was fine in his neighbourhood. He never even closed his window.
For the first four days following the evacuation, he dodged police patrols “sneakier than an Alberta rat,” before telling the Red Cross he was in the city. He wanted them to tell police he was tired of hiding and wanted to walk his dog.
Almost immediately, officers arrived and demanded he leave. When they started calling him, he took the phone off the hook.
It became a matter of whose nerve would break first, and eventually the police relented on the condition Dobson not drive. The roads needed to be clear for emergency and maintenance vehicles. Dobson never left Gregoire, and workers in the area got used to his presence.
“I thought for sure they would try to goon squad me out of here,” he said. “But they were kind. They dropped off a case of Gatorade, some chocolate and french bread that got delivered to the REOC place. One of them actually arrested me in the 1980s at the Oil Can. I liked to drink back then.”
Police have not released any numbers, but in the days following the evacuation, police found “a few stragglers,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. George Cameron said last month. Most of them left in their own vehicles or buses. Most of them did not have the means to leave, although some were stubborn like Dobson.
“It’s still incredibly dangerous for anyone to stay in that environment,” he said. “Even if they’re not doing anything wrong, if they get hurt or in trouble, we have to do what we can to stop another tragedy from unfolding.”
But Dobson is proud he outlasted those people.
Soon, the friends and family members calling him crazy relented as well. Soon, he was getting calls and texts asking him to check on their homes and pets. Others said he could take any food he wanted. He only took two rolls of toilet paper and some gasoline from a neighbour’s boat. He even used his power washer to soak homes, just in case any embers landed in the park.
"I was going to make damn sure the park would remain safe," he said. "I couldn't give a god damn what everyone else was dong. I wasn't leaving."
Friday, June 3, 2016/Fort McMurray Today