David's burnt out Gran Torino and new home in Fort McMurray

Rebuilding After the Fort McMurray Wildfire

By Sandra Sperounes

David Wallace calls it his own “miraculous escape.” The AMA member and his family were among the 88,000 people who fled the Fort McMurray wildfire on May 3, 2016.

“We had to leave by bush,” he says. “My wife Arlene and I drove over this steep embankment and we had to launch the truck through a ditch to get it on the highway. It was a harrowing experience.”

The Wallaces’ adult children evacuated in their own vehicles. His son, Devon, went north; his daughter, Breanna, headed south from downtown Fort McMurray. “She was coming up the hill, through the flames, following a big tanker truck, crying and talking on the phone with me,” David recalls. “But she made it through and we all got together. We initially evacuated to Saprae Creek, a small community out of town. From there, we evacuated to Athabasca.”

Though the Wallaces managed to get out, they lost their home and belongings in the fire. The Insurance Bureau of Canada called it the costliest insured natural disaster in Canadian history, with estimated damages of $3.58 billion. More than 40,000 claims were filed: 25,499 residential property, 4,151 commercial, and 14,444 automobile claims in all.

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Within days of fleeing Fort McMurray, the Wallaces received a cheque from AMA Insurance to cover their immediate living expenses. David and Arlene then spent the next month living in a fifth-wheel trailer at the Bonet Ranch in Athabasca while waiting for the go-ahead to reenter Fort McMurray. They spent their time putting together a meticulous inventory of the contents of their destroyed home.

Whenever the family had concerns about how things were moving along with their file, there was an open line of communication with AMA Insurance. “All I had to do was phone or text and we got answers right away,” David says. Within a few months, the Wallace family received a settlement for their contents, allowing them to begin the long journey of rebuilding.

“AMA was there for us,” David adds. “We needed everything and they helped us get back on our feet again.”

On October 5, 2018, more than two years after the fire, the Wallaces moved into their newly built home in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood. David also recently replaced the vintage car he lost in the disaster—a 1974 Ford Gran Torino. Unfortunately, it wasn’t insured at the time; he’d just bought the car and was in the process of getting an appraisal.

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He now owns a 1976 Gran Torino, purchased from the same dealer south of the border. “He called me up and said, ‘I have another car and I want it for you,’” David says. “He gave me such a good deal on it, I couldn’t say no.”

David says life is finally returning to normal for his family and friends. Most of their neighbours have come back and houses line the streets again. “It took a little getting used to our new house,” he says. “But we’re quite settled in now. It’s beautiful.”