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FORT MAC: An emotional year of recovery for Grand Falls-Windsor native and family

In August, Andrew Laite, Courtney Power-Laite, and big sister Lilah, welcome a new baby girl, Brielle, to their lives.
In August, Andrew Laite, Courtney Power-Laite, and big sister Lilah, welcome a new baby girl, Brielle, to their lives.

GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL-One of the biggest takeaways from a tragedy like the one in Fort McMurray last year is the understanding that houses can be rebuilt, but lives and trauma take longer to heal.

This is Grand Falls-Windsor native Connie Wasano’s realization of what happened to her cousin and thousands of others who fled Fort McMurray last May after a major fire forced a mass evacuation.

Grand Falls-Windsor native Andrew Laite, his wife Courtney Power-Laite of Calgary, and their daughter Lilah Power-Laite were among the thousands of evacuees.

“Talking about May 3 has been a hard subject in the past, but sitting down now it's getting easier and easier,” Andrew said.

 

The horror developed

He was working nights on May 3, 2016 so Courtney, who was 24 weeks pregnant at the time, went about her daily routines and dropped Lilah off at school for noon.

“When she came back to put away groceries and start supper, she woke me in a panic,” Andrew said. “The clouds were getting worse and we were told we were under a voluntary evacuation.”

Courtney asked him to call work to let them know he wasn’t going in, and to get Lilah from school.

“When I got to the school it seemed like I was over reacting and nobody was in the panic that we were,” Andrew said, adding he picked up Lilah and headed home where Courtney met them at the door with their dog. They left, around 3 p.m.

They stopped at his in-law’s house to grab their two dogs and some items for them because the whole city was now on mandatory evacuation and they couldn’t make it home.

FULL COVERAGE: Fire in Fort McMurray: One year later

The view out the window when Andrew Laite woke on May 3. They were under a voluntary evacuation order at the time.

“Then began the 10-hour journey north,” Andrew said.

“Still on the highway moving inch by inch we got a call from our security company asking if we knew why our smoke alarms were going off and our glass was breaking. We quickly responded with 'I guess our house was on fire', and that was it. We hung up but it didn't sink in.”

They originally went north, meeting up with Courtney’s parents around 1 a.m., and found a camp that wasn't full. They stayed in a room on a single bed.

“Courtney and I didn't sleep that night, as we were constantly checking our phones waiting to hear any news at all,” Andrew said. “Around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. we had a good friend that was working that night as an RCMP officer and she had drove by and let us know (the house) was gone. Still at that point it didn't sink in until we saw pictures days later.”

This is what was left to the home of Grand Falls-Windsor native Andrew Laite, his wife Courtney Power-Laite, and daughter Lilah Power-Laite’s home after the wildfires in Fort McMurray last spring.

Check out their original story here.

Around 6 a.m. they heard the roads were open and it would be a small window where they could make it south of Fort McMurray. They packed up and headed south to their camper, where they stayed for three weeks before relocating to Airdrie, Alberta.

They rented a house in a cul-de-sac where Lilah made “amazing” friends, but Andrew was flying in and out and hated being away from his family.

“As the days we're getting closer to Courtney's due date we knew we had to find a place back in Fort McMurray,” Andrew said. “Finding a rental was hard but we ended up getting a small townhouse that was perfect for what we needed, and that was to be together.”

They welcomed another girl into their family in August. Brielle, who they say has been ‘a blessing’, has kept them busy over the last eight months.

The couple said they struggled daily with insurance battles, and pushed back with questions and a plea for answers.

“There were many arguments and lots of tears and we know if we were to have let insurance take its course we certainly wouldn't be in our house today,” Andrew said. “We were the fourth family to have moved back into our neighbourhood and we have some pride in knowing that all the tears and struggles with insurance paid off.”

They moved into their new home on April 7.

“It was an emotional day for both of us,” Andrew said. “To look around at our brand new house and be able to say ‘we did it’, I couldn't think of a better person to be by my side than my wife, Courtney.”

Last year, Lilah shared her birthday with her cousin Charlie, Wasano’s daughter, in Edmonton.

“Lilah talks daily about her cousin Charlie and how sweet she was to have shared her birthday,” Andrew said. “We asked her today how she felt about her birthday last year and she said 'it was the best birthday ever' and to us that's more than we could have ever hoped for as we worried she would have a horrible memory of her birthday being so close to the fires. We thank Connie and Charlie being so generous to include her.”

Charlie says that if cousins Lilah or Brielle want to have their birthdays with her anytime, they can.

However, this year, Lilah is excited to spend it in her new home.

“She has already made a list of everything she has planned and what she wants to do, and she can't wait to show off her new room and playroom,” Andrew said.

Andrew, Courtney and their two children are appreciative of all the people who have helped them over the past year.

On April 7, Andrew Laite, Courtney Power-Laite, and their daughter’s Lilah and Brielle, moved into their new home.

“We…thank all of our family and friends near and far that helped us get to where we are today,” Laite said. “We couldn't have done it without all of you….”

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