Hartley Bushell Is Last Man Standing In Fort McMurray — 63-Year-Old Ignored Evacuation Order To Protect His Home

For 63-year-old Fort McMurray resident, Hartley Bushell, not even the raging wildfires were enough to force him to flee the home he shares with wife, Chalinee.

As the fires reached over 21 meters high, and residents fled their city of Fort McMurray, Alberta amid a mandatory evacuation order on May 3, Hartley Bushell stood strong, hose in hand, ready to fight for his home, and those of his neighbors. Neither his wife’s begging, nor dozens of confrontations with the RCMP could make Bushell evacuate his city. Instead, he armed himself with hoses borrowed from his neighbors, created a wall of water to keep his house, and those around him, free from embers and flames, and stood vigil well into the night, as fires ripped through the city reports CBC.

Bushell and his wife — who has since left Fort McMurray to visit family in Nova Scotia — were prepared to flee the city if they absolutely had to, but Hartley said that thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

“We maintained a vigilant, diligent spark watch. We had an easy escape route and our vehicle was packed with supplies. We stayed the course and kept everything from igniting until the fire was no longer an immediate threat.”

When the evacuation order came in, and some 80,000 residents left the city of Fort McMurray, Bushell made the decision that he would not go. He said he couldn’t imagine returning weeks later to find his home in ruins, and his wife’s beloved flower garden covered in rubble and ash, and has done whatever he had to do to keep that from happening, including creating a wall of water. After borrowing some hoses from his neighbors, Hartley Bushell rigged them to his fence, which sent water spraying up into the air, protecting his own, and his neighbors’ houses from any stray embers that could potentially send the homes up in flames.

“This is not just a house we have here. This is our home.”

Despite the mandatory evacuation order, it is not illegal for Hartley Bushell to remain in his home, says Sgt. John Spaans, with the Alberta RCMP, unless, of course, he becomes a danger to himself, or the public, according to Metro News. But for Bushell, the “public” is only him, as far as he knows. The RCMP have hinted that Bushell is not the only resident to have stayed in Fort McMurray, but Hartley hasn’t seen anyone else, and since his wife has left, it’s getting a little lonely.

Bushell had a companion for a while– a small pug named P.J. that he rescued while searching through the debris of a friend’s house for family pictures — but knew that he would eventually have to return the little dog to his rightful owners. Hartley managed to find P.J.’s family, and on Tuesday, he surrendered the pug to animal rescue officials, who would be bringing the pup to Edmonton to reunite him with his family. Rescuing P.J., says Bushell, was the most gratifying part of his continued stay in Fort McMurray.

RCMP are continuing to urge Bushell to leave, but he’s standing his ground. He plans to stay as long as possible, and will help to rebuild Fort McMurray once the evacuation order is lifted, and the evacuees can begin returning to their homes.

“Just keeping the fort tight, that’s what I’ve been doing.”

On Monday, Alberta premier Rachel Notley announced that in about two weeks’ time, a schedule will be released for when residents can begin to return to Fort McMurray. Until then, Hartley Bushell will continue to busy himself by tending to his wife’s garden, and keeping a watchful eye on the sky for any sign of the fire’s return.

[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]