Hoggarth fighting to save Fort McMurray

New son born last week
Section: 
News

By Josh Howald

From the end of the world to the start of a new life, it has been a wild month for Randy and Tayla Hoggarth.

Tayla and Randy Hoggart with new son, Forrest.

 

Randy Hoggarth, a Kincardine District Secondary School graduate, and his wife Tayla are firefighters/EMTs in Fort McMurray. On Friday, Tayla gave birth to a healthy baby boy. One day, Forrest Jason Hoggarth will learn the details around his birth and find out what his parents did to ensure his safe arrival.

Hoggarth is an Acting Captain with nine years under his belt with the Fort McMurray Fire Department. His wife has been with the department for the last four. The FMFD is responsible for the urban service area within municipal boundaries, and the Forestry Department handles the areas surrounding the city. Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of the wildfires that forced a mandatory evacuation of the city of 80,000 people on May 3.

There have been wildfires in other years, but nothing could prepare Fort McMurray for this blaze.

"We've never seen anything of this magnitude - not even close," said Hoggarth in a telephone interview with The Kincardine Independent last week.

While Hoggarth told his story, there were 15 fires burning north of Fort McMurray. Three of them were out of control, and more than 350,000 hectares of land had burned. With hardly any snow over the winter and no rainfall, conditions were ideal for wildfires this season. In the week leading up to the May 3 evacuation, the FMFD had battled four forest fires within the urban service area.

Hoggarth and his fellow firefighters heard the fire had jumped the Athabasca. The next day, he began to see smoke from the front porch of his home in Wood Buffalo, an area of Fort McMurray. Conditions had changed. Hoggarth explained what is called "crossover". That is when humidity readings and temperature figures cross - for example, if the humidity is 18 and the temperature is 19 or 20 degrees. That is the point when things get dangerous, quickly. By noon on May 3, the fire had tripled in size and low-lying smoke made it difficult to see much of anything.

"I was coming off nights and I put my boy down to sleep, thinking that things were getting a little extreme when I got a phone call from a friend at the (fire) station. He had heard from management that the (evacuation) order was about to come down, so I called my wife and started packing whatever I could."

To add to the excitement, Tayla was nine months pregnant - the baby due any day and Tayla was high -risk to have a C-section.

Once the full evacuation of Wood Buffalo was ordered, Hoggarth got a jerry can of fuel from a neighbour, woke his son, gathered his wife and hit the road. It took more than an hour to get out of his neighbourhood. It was grinding on him not to be in action with his fellow firefighters.

"It was tough," he said. "I wanted to help protect my city, but I decided to get Tayla to a hospital out of town. There would be no surgeons around. I had to take care of my family first. It tore me up not to be jumping on the truck with my brothers and sisters."

 

Stuck in traffic and knowing it would take more fuel to escape the city than they had, Hoggarth gave his wife the wheel and hopped out of his truck. He told Tayla he would catch up, then ran three kilometres back to their home to gather more fuel, then back to catch up with his family.

"The radio was telling everybody to go north, but we were actually directed south. Heading south, we saw what had happened downtown. To see the whole community on fire...

..... for the rest of the story, don't miss this week's print edition of The Kincardine Independent