Retiring Fort McMurray fire chief still plagued by guilt – Edmonton

Darby Allen, the Fort McMurray fire chief credited with slaying one of Alberta’s largest wildfires, is bidding farewell to his home and position.

Allen retired Thursday after four years as fire chief with a low-key staff appreciation event. Originally from Birmingham, England, he started with the Fort McMurray department in 2009.  

He never thought he would end his career inundated with so many requests for interviews.

“I think it’s safe to say it’s way bigger news than it had have been if the wildfire hadn’t come along,” Allen said Friday.

Even as Allen and his wife Maria packed up their downtown Fort McMurray apartment, the fire chief’s former assistant said her boss is still getting many media requests.

Allen led the Wood Buffalo Regional Emergency Services response on May 3, 2016 when a wildfire raced through parts of Fort McMurray. The flames encircling Canada’s oilsands capital prompted one of Canada’s largest evacuations.

‘Nobody feels guiltier than me’

National and international media watched as an estimated 90,000 people fled the city. More than 2,400 homes were destroyed. Residents started returning home a month later.

While the fire chief is held up as hero outside Fort McMurray, Allen said his heart goes out local residents who feel he and his department failed them. He hears criticism that his department called the evacuation of Fort McMurray too late or didn’t do enough to save neighbourhoods.

“Nobody feels guiltier than me and those firefighters that we couldn’t have saved every property,” Allen said. “With that type of fire in those early days we didn’t have the resources to do everything.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with then-Fort McMurray fire chief Darby Allen as Alberta Premier Rachel Notley looks on in Edmonton, before a flight to Fort McMurray. Trudeau made a visit in May to see first-hand the devastation caused by the wildfire that forced the evacuation of the city. (Jason Franson/Canadian…

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