FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — The fire chief who offered regular updates to Canadians during last May’s enormous wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., has officially retired.
Darby Allen celebrated his retirement by having cake with colleagues on Thursday.
Allen tells CTV News he his wife are moving to Vancouver to enjoy the ocean and milder winters, and he plans to spend some time on the speech circuit.
Mayor Melissa Blake says Allen will be missed, adding that he was not just a heroic firefighter but also a soccer coach and philanthropist in the community.
Allen says his priorities during the 80,000-person evacuation last May were to “save lives, save lives, save lives” and says the first responders in the area did just that.
Some 2,400 structures were damaged or destroyed by the blaze.
“When first light came on the fourth (of May), I was worried we might see lots of vehicles still on the road burning with people,” Allen says.
While it could have been far worse, Allen admits the fire left him emotionally scarred.
“I’ve gone to speak to professionals about how I’m feeling,” Allen says. “We did well, but as a firefighter we still feel guilty about what was lost.”
Allen became the national face of the disaster with his regular social media updates on the wildfire, which he dubbed "the beast'' for its ferocity and unpredictability.
In voting for The Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year in 2016, Darby tied for third with four-time Olympic medallist Penny Oleksiak. The pair came behind the winner, Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in second.
Allen says he’s not sure he will feel ready to return to Fort McMurray for the one-year anniversary of the fire in May.
At the same time, he says he’s pleased with what he achieved during his career.
“I have no regrets."
(CTV Calgary, CTV Edmonton)