REALTOR® in Halifax Loses Home but Inspires Hope Amidst Nova Scotia Wildfires

Dark smoke plumed into the sky as Katherine Tarateski, a REALTOR® and salesperson with RE/MAX Nova raced toward her young family’s home in hopes of saving whatever she could from the fast-spreading wildfires, but emergency crews stopped her vehicle from going further. The fires were out of control.

Later that day (May 28, 2023), she learned there was no home left for herself, husband Nick, and 21-month-old daughter, Mia, to return to. Hammonds Plains, which hours before had been a thriving community alive with vibrant greenery, was reduced to a smouldering wreck of rubble and ash.

“We could not get there in time to save our cat and dog in the house, that was the biggest loss for us,” says Tarateski, who had been at a community event with her family just 15 minutes away when she got the evacuation notice on her phone, prompting them to try and return to their home. By then it was already too late. “It all happened so fast, and it has been devastating.”

Support those affected by the wildfires in Nova Scotia & Atlantic Canada by visiting our REALTORS Care® fundraising page and making a tax-receiptable donation in support of the Canadian Red Cross.

Wildfires in the province have destroyed more than 200 structures including more than 150 homes with an estimated 16,500 people fleeing.

In early May, almost 4,000 km to the west, thousands of Albertans faced the same reality. In Drayton Valley, John Dempster a REALTOR® and owner of RE/MAX Vision Realty, and his wife Rachelle, a fellow REALTOR® and co-owner/broker at Vision Realty, received an evacuation notice on Saturday, May 6 at 11 p.m. They rushed to grab essential documents and get across town to help at the homes of their three children, getting pets (including a dog, a cat, and a turtle) and many family belongings to safety.

“Five minutes after we got the alert a fire truck roared through our subdivision with the siren blaring,” said Dempster, “I’ve never been in a crisis like this before and I can tell you that being evacuated in the dark at 11 p.m. as everyone is trying to leave town at the same time is kind of surreal.”

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Back in Nova Scotia, the speed of the wildfires caught everyone, including officials and firefighters off guard.

Tarateski says her neighbour and friend, who was inside her own home, was trying to leave and watched in horror as the fires set her backyard aflame, sending her running out the front door in bare feet to escape. Another neighbour, she says, had her vehicle catch fire as they drove away, and she had to be pulled from it and watch it burn to the ground.

“I’m so thankful that more people weren’t hurt and that is thanks to the work of our firefighters and police,” says Tarateski, who found a Bed and Breakfast in Bedford, Nova Scotia to stay at temporarily and was looking for a house for a one-year rental. “I want to thank everyone who fought the fires, these people risked their lives to save our community and they were heroic.”

There are now so many displaced families, though, and many of them are vying for scarce resources, including daycare spaces, as they try and put their lives back together.

To help, Tarateski started a Facebook group, Nova Scotia Wildfire Housing Aid, which she created to help connect displaced people with generous community members who might have room to spare. Already, people with homes or basements to rent have reached out but more help is still needed.

Days after the nearby wildfires were brought under control, Tarateski returned to her former neighbourhood on a sanctioned bus tour, she looked eagerly for her house. It had disappeared in what seemed like a wasteland. “I cried,” she says, praising the volunteers who were so kind to her and the others on that day. “It was just a dead zone. The beautiful forest and our house and our neighbourhood, all gone.”

She and her husband are looking for solutions to rebuild.

“People here need everything now and that is why the REALTORS Care® fundraising campaign is important,” says Tarateski. “My husband and I are trying to be optimistic. It’s hard. We will rebuild. The whole community is looking to help each other.”

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