Not everyone who owned a home in the path of the wildfire that burned through several Fort McMurray neighbourhoods was home at the time the mandatory evacuation order came down Tuesday afternoon.
So when local locksmith Chris Inger saw a Facebook post from a fellow Fort McMurrian, stuck at a work site north of the city and worried about three cats trapped at home, he stepped up with the tools of his trade to help.
Inger was in the midst of getting ready to flee the city with his fiancé when he saw the plea for help on the Fort McMurray Anything Goes Facebook group — where he was turning to for updates on the fire.
He told the cats’ owner he could swing by and unlock the home, but would leave the door open for someone else to swing by and pick up the three cats. But when no one offered to do that, Inger dropped everything once again.
He even made arrangements for people to travel in another car, so he could have space to evacuate the cats.
“The whole city, by that time, was under mandatory evacuation,” he said. “So, I went to the traffic again and picked them up on the way out.”
This was at a time when some 88,000 people were trying to flee the city at once and vehicles were backed up along Highway 63 — the main route out of town.
But Inger got back to the home and he and his fiancé rounded up the three cats, with only a couple scratches from a kitten that wasn’t quite ready to leave.
“Before you know it, we got three cats and kitty litter in our car, which was not really expected,” he told Global News in a phone interview from Edmonton, where he’s now staying until they find out when or if they can return home.
With the cats’ owner stuck up north of the city, Inger made arrangements to meet the man’s brother along the way, in Wandering River — where the couple spent the night in their car. Caught in the traffic, it took about 13 hours to make the four-hour drive to Edmonton.
Settled in to temporary lodging, Inger posted a photo of the three cats he rescued on Reddit — to share a small “silver lining” kind of story amid all the tragedy.
He didn’t expect the story to get the reaction it did.
“It’s too early to cry about how amazing you are for saving those kitties!! Kudos to you and stay safe!!!” wrote one Reddit user going by the username Morrowynn.
“Good for you dude, this is the stuff that makes me feel like I may be wrong about the world sometimes…” another user commented.
Inger, said he has also been impressed with how people are coming to the aid of others in their time in need. Even sleeping over in a parking lot, he said fast food restaurant stayed open well into the night to make sure evacuees could get something to eat.
As for the cats, they’re still in Edmonton with the owner’s brother — who actually offered Inger and his fiancé a place to stay if they needed. They instead chose to stay near friends who already know they don’t have a home to go back to in Fort McMurray.
Inger is holding out hope for the fate of his own home. He lives in the Timberlea neighbourhood, which officials say fared better than other areas of the city. Inger also spoke with a neighbour who he said was able to interact with her alarm system remotely — a positive sign that home may be all right.