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Family connection eases turmoil of evacuation for Grand Falls-Windsor natives


A birthday is a special day for little children. And though Lilah Power-Laite didn’t get to celebrate her big day with her friends at home in Fort McMurray, thanks to her cousins in Edmonton, she got a party all decked out with fun, smiles, presents and cake.

When Grand Falls-Windsor native Connie Wasano, her daughter Charlie and son Sammie were planning Charlie’s tenth birthday party, they never dreamt Charlie would be sharing the day with her little cousin, Lilah.

But that’s exactly what happened this past Saturday.

Lilah and her parents, Grand Falls-Windsor native Andrew Laite and Courtney Power-Laite of Calgary, were fleeing Fort McMurray like thousands of others after a major fire forced a massive evacuation.

Andrew, son of Cliff and Linda Laite, who still reside in Grand Falls-Windsor, moved to Fort McMurray several years ago to work and have a better life for himself and his family. He works for Shell as an operator.

“The day of the evacuation was ‘just like a movie’ he said,” Wasano told the Advertiser on Monday. ‘Houses burning down, cars abandoned, people just going crazy.’”

Andrew drove to daycare to pick up his daughter Lilah and as they were leaving were hit by another vehicle, Wasano said.

“He was forced to drive home on two flat tires,” she said, adding that vehicle was then parked in his driveway and has since burnt.

He got to his home in the Wood Buffalo area of Fort McMurray, got his wife Courtney, who is pregnant and due in August, and the family dog and left.

“The flames were across the street from their house at that time,” Wasano said. “They started heading north and didn't make it to camp (they were turned away from the first one because it was full), until early the next morning.”

After trying to get some rest there, they decided to make a run for it back through Fort McMurray and head south to their camping trailer several hours south of the town.

“Andrew said driving back through was the scariest thing, they could feel the heat of the fire as they sped through,” Wasano said.

The family’s home was burned to the ground, Wasano said, adding she is just happy everyone is safe.

Connie shared her cousin’s recent Facebook post:

"Wanted to write a quick update as I know I haven't gotten the chance to write everyone back. 

Our house WAS at the end on this street by the light post on the right. I didn't think everything I have worked so hard for could be gone in the blink of an eye. And never in a million years did I think I would have to look for a clean shirt off a donation table. We all left with only a small suitcase of belongings. And the shirt on my back. It's been a long few days of an emotional roller coaster but Courtney, Lilah and I are together and that's all that matters."

 

They are staying in their camper until they figure things out, Wasano said.

However, they were in Edmonton on Sunday with the Wasanos to celebrate for Charlie who turns 10 on May 12, and Lilah who is turning five a few days later.

Wasano explained she and Andrew were very close growing up, as their fathers are twins, so their daughters having a party together was “quite special”, outside the unfortunate circumstances.

Charlie planned a birthday party where they would take her friend to the salon to get their nails done.

“When we found out Lilah was coming to visit and had lost everything we decided that it would be a joint birthday party,” Wasano said. “Anyone who knows me at all knows that I go crazy at birthdays and there was no way a five-year-old child I knew was not going to have a special day.”

Wasano contacted several friends to tell that what they were doing and they gladly volunteered to come by and bring presents for both girls.

“I even had a friend from home who is now living in Manitoba send money on behalf of her two young boys to purchase presents for Lilah,” Wasano said. “She said they would like to help and felt this would be the perfect opportunity for the boys to see the result of their generosity.”

Charlie didn’t have an issue sharing her special day.

"I was worried cause they lost their house," Charlie said. "I was happy to share my party. The party was fun with all of my friends and my cousin, she's cute." 

The party was a huge success for both girls.

“They both had their own cake and candles to blow out,” Wasano said. “Just a few hours to be little and have fun. Presents were opened, laughs all around, and extra tight hugs.

“Family will always be family. Good times and bad, we have each other’s backs. And there's no better way to see that then the smiles these two girls shared at their birthday party.”

Wasano said if anyone would like to help Andrew and his family, they should either contact her or his mother, Linda Laite, who will make sure it gets personally delivered to them.

 

When Grand Falls-Windsor native Connie Wasano, her daughter Charlie and son Sammie were planning Charlie’s tenth birthday party, they never dreamt Charlie would be sharing the day with her little cousin, Lilah.

But that’s exactly what happened this past Saturday.

Lilah and her parents, Grand Falls-Windsor native Andrew Laite and Courtney Power-Laite of Calgary, were fleeing Fort McMurray like thousands of others after a major fire forced a massive evacuation.

Andrew, son of Cliff and Linda Laite, who still reside in Grand Falls-Windsor, moved to Fort McMurray several years ago to work and have a better life for himself and his family. He works for Shell as an operator.

“The day of the evacuation was ‘just like a movie’ he said,” Wasano told the Advertiser on Monday. ‘Houses burning down, cars abandoned, people just going crazy.’”

Andrew drove to daycare to pick up his daughter Lilah and as they were leaving were hit by another vehicle, Wasano said.

“He was forced to drive home on two flat tires,” she said, adding that vehicle was then parked in his driveway and has since burnt.

He got to his home in the Wood Buffalo area of Fort McMurray, got his wife Courtney, who is pregnant and due in August, and the family dog and left.

“The flames were across the street from their house at that time,” Wasano said. “They started heading north and didn't make it to camp (they were turned away from the first one because it was full), until early the next morning.”

After trying to get some rest there, they decided to make a run for it back through Fort McMurray and head south to their camping trailer several hours south of the town.

“Andrew said driving back through was the scariest thing, they could feel the heat of the fire as they sped through,” Wasano said.

The family’s home was burned to the ground, Wasano said, adding she is just happy everyone is safe.

Connie shared her cousin’s recent Facebook post:

"Wanted to write a quick update as I know I haven't gotten the chance to write everyone back. 

Our house WAS at the end on this street by the light post on the right. I didn't think everything I have worked so hard for could be gone in the blink of an eye. And never in a million years did I think I would have to look for a clean shirt off a donation table. We all left with only a small suitcase of belongings. And the shirt on my back. It's been a long few days of an emotional roller coaster but Courtney, Lilah and I are together and that's all that matters."

 

They are staying in their camper until they figure things out, Wasano said.

However, they were in Edmonton on Sunday with the Wasanos to celebrate for Charlie who turns 10 on May 12, and Lilah who is turning five a few days later.

Wasano explained she and Andrew were very close growing up, as their fathers are twins, so their daughters having a party together was “quite special”, outside the unfortunate circumstances.

Charlie planned a birthday party where they would take her friend to the salon to get their nails done.

“When we found out Lilah was coming to visit and had lost everything we decided that it would be a joint birthday party,” Wasano said. “Anyone who knows me at all knows that I go crazy at birthdays and there was no way a five-year-old child I knew was not going to have a special day.”

Wasano contacted several friends to tell that what they were doing and they gladly volunteered to come by and bring presents for both girls.

“I even had a friend from home who is now living in Manitoba send money on behalf of her two young boys to purchase presents for Lilah,” Wasano said. “She said they would like to help and felt this would be the perfect opportunity for the boys to see the result of their generosity.”

Charlie didn’t have an issue sharing her special day.

"I was worried cause they lost their house," Charlie said. "I was happy to share my party. The party was fun with all of my friends and my cousin, she's cute." 

The party was a huge success for both girls.

“They both had their own cake and candles to blow out,” Wasano said. “Just a few hours to be little and have fun. Presents were opened, laughs all around, and extra tight hugs.

“Family will always be family. Good times and bad, we have each other’s backs. And there's no better way to see that then the smiles these two girls shared at their birthday party.”

Wasano said if anyone would like to help Andrew and his family, they should either contact her or his mother, Linda Laite, who will make sure it gets personally delivered to them.

 

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