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This Fort McMurray Man Found An Ingenious Way To Check If His House Was Still Standing

"That was the first solid piece of evidence that my home was at least somewhat in tact."

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Amidst uncertainty in the aftermath of the fires in Fort McMurray, James Lahey found comfort in an unexpected way: a call to his internet service provider.

James Lahey

Lahey was sipping coffee and watching the plumes of smoke from his back deck in Fort McMurray when the voluntary evacuation orders started coming in. By the time he'd picked up his son from school, they'd become mandatory.

He ended up driving north to stay with his cousin Shelley Harte, but as conditions changed again he decided to go back south. On the smoke-filled 3 a.m. drive back through Fort McMurray, his house was still standing. The 34-year-old Suncor heavy equipment technician is now with his aunt and uncle, Sheila and Jim Harte, in Spruce Grove, Alberta.

As the fire raged on, it became harder and harder to figure out if his home was still safe. "There was a lot of misinformation about which areas of town were damaged and which areas of town were spared," Lahey told BuzzFeed Canada. "I'd seen some images that looked like my area but I didn’t have a good sense of what was waiting for me when I got home."

That's when he had the brilliant idea to call up his internet provider, Shaw. He knew the company had a way of communicating with his home internet modem. If they could receive a signal from the modem, maybe his home was still standing.

He ended up talking to Mel Hendershot, a Shaw employee in Winnipeg who later described the phone call in a Facebook post.

Facebook: 1616840568638530

"You called me for any kind of hope that your home just may be still standing, or even salvageable," Hendershot wrote.

"I'll never forget that moment of silence when I told you your internet modem was powered on, fully working. I'll never forget the goosebumps I had all over my body when I heard your sigh of relief."

Hendershot wrote the call left her in tears and that she'd never "felt so much purpose in my own life."

It's not a moment Lahey is likely to forget, either.

"That was the first solid piece of evidence that my home was at least somewhat intact," he said.

It wasn't until later that Lahey found Hendershot's viral Facebook post about the call.

Facebook: 1616840568638530

"Reading her post was really quite touching," said Lahey.

"It’s been really interesting experience to be a part of her story because that’s something I didn’t even consider, how it could affect her."

The two are now Facebook friends and Lahey was able to thank her again as well as put in a good word with her supervisors at Shaw.

Lahey said he doesn't know how long it will be until he can go back to Fort McMurray or what damage he'll find, but thanks to Hendershot he knows there will be something to go back to.

Lauren Strapagiel is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.

Contact Lauren Strapagiel at lauren.strapagiel@buzzfeed.com.

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