Fort McMurray: Meet the Man Who Refuses to Run From the Canadian Wildfire

Courtesy Hartley Bushell

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By Corky Siemaszko

Armed with a garden hose, Hartley Bushell is one stubborn Canadian defying the furious flames that have been devouring his hometown.

His neighbors have fled. His wife has fled. And the Mounties have told him at least a dozen times to get the heck out of Fort McMurray.

And yet Bushell, 63, said he will not surrender his home to the furies of Mother Nature.

Courtesy Hartley Bushell

"This is not just a house we have here," he told CBC News. "This is our home."

Outside of firefighters and first responders, Bushell just may be the last man remaining in a city of 80,000 that was ordered to evacuate on May 3 after the blazes burned through several neighborhoods.

On the day Bushell was first told to split, he said a house around the corner from his caught fire. He saw the walls of flames across the highway from his home. He felt the intense heat.

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But he would not go — not even after his wife, Chalinee, begged him to get in the car with her.

This was his castle, he said. He had his wife's beloved flower garden to defend. So he began dousing his property — and that of his neighbors' — to keep the flames at bay and the embers away.

While the evacuation order was mandatory, under Canadian law police don't have the authority to make anyone leave their property.

Bushell insisted he was "not a daredevil."

Courtesy Hartley Bushell

"I've done some fairly adventurous things in my life, but I'm not anxious to leave this world," he told the CBC, adding that he's mapped out an escape route just in case.

In the meantime, Bushell said he's staying put, surviving on the food and water in the house — and missing his wife "a lot."

"My wife and I are very close," he said.

But Bushell has some company — a little pug he found abandoned when he ventured out into one of the city's smoldering neighborhoods to retrieve a friend's photos and documents.

"I thought, 'I cannot leave that little fella here,'" he said.

Bushell said he's been in touch with the owners of the dog, whose name is P.J. "He's really quite a little darling," he said.

And, Bushell said, he knows it could be weeks before his wife and neighbors are allowed to come back.

In the meantime, he'll keep doing what he's been doing — "just keeping the fort tight."