This is the scene in a northern Alberta town called Slave Lake last week, as the town got in the way of an out of control wildfire, burning over a third of the town into the ground, including the town’s administrative building. Since the fire knocked out utilities, even the people who will be lucky enough to be able to go home to an untouched home will still have to wait weeks until they can go back. The devastation is truly amazing, both federal and provincial governments have stepped up with promises of support and money to help rebuild.

Luckily, nobody was killed by the fire, a remarkable feat in itself. Everybody managed to leave town ahead of the fire, setting up evacuation camps in nearby Athabasca. As people wait for the opportunity to return home, what about the people who don’t have a home to return? Should they go back to Slave Lake and attempt to rebuild their lives? Or should they leave forever?

The Case For Rebuilding

Slave Lake is their home. In many cases, they’ve lived there for years, sometimes decades. As members of the community, citizens of Slave Lake have become intertwined with their community. Kids have established relationships with peers in school, and as a result, parents have established extended relationships with other parents. As someone who still lives in the town he grew up in, having a sense of community is a convincing motivator.

If someone stays in the community, they have the satisfaction of helping to rebuild. Sure, Slave Lake will suffer, probably for years. After all, a third of the town has been burnt down. However long the rebuilding process takes, those people who believed in the community will be the ones to reap the rewards, at least from a pride perspective. Think about how exciting it would be to have a role in shaping the new community.

The Case For Leaving

Losing a home to fire is one of the most horrible things anyone can go through. Besides losing priceless items like keepsakes and pictures, a victim is losing a part of their innocence as well. A home is supposed to be a sanctuary from the evils of the outside world, a place where someone can go and truly let their guard down and relax. A home is the place where you feel with most comfortable, a little spot in this world that’s truly yours. Now imagine losing it in the span of a few moments.

A very natural reaction would be to leave that place forever. While you’ll always have the good memories, those memories will forever be clouded by tragedy. How hard would it be, spending day after day in a place, surrounded by people who were starting over from scratch, after such a horrific event? That would drain even the strongest of us all.

Leaving town could be the best thing to happen. Leaving means a new job and a new community somewhere else. Perhaps that job is fantastic or leads to a life changing opportunity. Maybe a single person meets the love of their life in their new home. All sorts of benefits can await someone who’s just willing to step out of their comfort zone, maybe a tragedy is just the thing they need to kick start a new life.

What Would I Do?

It’s simple. I’d leave town forever. I’d maybe come back every now and again to visit my old stomping grounds, but I’d head out and take the first good opportunity I could find.

For me, it would be heartbreaking everyday to spend time in a place crippled by disaster. While the rebuilding effort would be exciting, I just don’t think I could get into it. I’d very quickly turn into one of those old guys who’s constantly pining for the good ol’ days. Naturally, I’d disagree with some part of the plan for the new town.

I’ve often thought about leaving my small town and starting over in a new place. Even though I think my reputation is good, the old saying is right; it does precede me where ever I go. A fresh start in a new town could be the jolt that reinvigorates me. Suddenly I’m the new guy, rather than being the guy who’s been around town forever. I’ve never really experienced this feeling.

Moving away is the easiest way to distance yourself from the tragedy. If you’re not surrounded by the charred remains of what was once your neighbours’ house, then it becomes a lot easier to focus on other things. It would take awhile, but I’d become a member of my new community.

Readers, would you stay and help rebuild? Or would you leave town forever?

Note: I know I promised a giveaway today. But I was busy working all weekend, and haven’t had a chance to read the book I’m giving away. I’ll read it tomorrow, probably on my patio. So look for the giveaway on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Tell everyone, yo!