The sky ablaze

Alberta man recounts recent evacuations due to wildfires

June 15, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 12
Emily Summach | Alberta Correspondent
Skies ablaze over the airtanker base in Edson, Alberta on May 5. (Photo by Art Koop)

Art Koop was cleaning up after teaching his last class of the day when the emergency alert blared from his cell phone. The message called for an immediate, mandatory evacuation. A wildfire threatened Edson, Alberta, the community where Koop lives and works. The sky was an eerie orange colour and thick with smoke.

‘I didn’t think we’d be the ones evacuating,’ says Art Koop.

Koop, his wife, and their three children moved to Edson in 2021. The town of 8,500 is located along the Yellowhead Highway, halfway between Edmonton and Jasper.

The fire season in Alberta has been especially active this year: 842,000 hectares (over 2 million acres) of land have burned. Even though the community was aware of the nearby fires, the evacuation alert on May 5 still came as a surprise. Koop, who teaches culinary arts at the local high school, had delivered baked goods to the evacuation centre in Edson earlier that week. “Edson was a safe zone,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d be the ones evacuating, considering we’d been supporting other evacuees.”

The smoke levels steadily increased throughout the day of the evacuation. The inside of Koop’s school was hazy, as the HVAC system couldn’t keep up with clearing the air. While many areas were on alert for a potential evacuation, Koop knew it was serious when the call was for immediate evacuation. The encroaching wildfire was 11 kilometres away.

Koop and his family took their two vehicles and left home. “The fact that our evacuation was immediate certainly raised the level of intensity. There is only one highway out of Edson [not blocked by the fire], so we joined the long lineup of cars to get fuel, and then joined the long line of cars heading out of town,” he said. “All you could do was get in the line and just pray. Everyone was in the same boat. It takes a long time to move that many people out on one highway.”

The experience reminded him of the images he saw on the news during the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

The Koops spent the night near Jasper. The following day, they learned that the Jasper area’s power grid was in jeopardy due to the fires. Officials asked evacuees to leave the area. The family headed to Calgary, and spent the next few days with friends.

Edson was spared the worst. Some residents in rural areas of the town lost outbuildings, but the town itself experienced no significant impacts. Residents were allowed to return home on May 8.

That lasted until June 9, when residents were again ordered to evacuate. As of June 14, the wildfire continues to burn within 1.5 kilometres of Edson’s southern boundary.

Koop and his family are back in Calgary. “We’re a bit discombobulated,” he says. “We’re hopeful that we will come back to a town that is intact.” 

Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Alberta? Send it to Emily Summach at

Skies ablaze over the airtanker base in Edson, Alberta on May 5. (Photo by Art Koop)

‘I didn’t think we’d be the ones evacuating,’ says Art Koop. (Photo courtesy of Art Koop)

Share this page: Twitter Instagram

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.