Fort McMurray — Living two blocks from Fort McMurray's Birchwood trail system, June Heskett's two children used to explore the forest daily.
They haven't been back in those woods since May 3, 2016, when the fast-moving wildfire forced them, and 88,000 others, from the city.
The thick lattice of bright white birch trees that surrounded Fort McMurray is scorched now. Bulldozers have felled 30 kilometres of trees around the city's edges to guard against future forest fires.
"The scariest place to be is the forest. It's so dark, and it's changed so much," Heskett said.
After her family returned to Fort McMurray last summer, the artist wanted to make and send thank you cards to about 80 people who helped them while displaced — loaning them a car, caring for their dogs, and offering furniture and a place to live.
Charcoal from burned trees was the ideal medium, she decided.
Drawing mostly trees and nature scenes, Heskett sold a few cards at an art sale and posted pictures of her work on Facebook, to an enthusiastic reception.
"I had people falling in love with it, because they got the concept," she said.
Artist June Heskett makes drawings and thank-you cards on Saturday, April 8, 2017 for Fort McMurray residents using charcoal scavenged from forests hit by the 2016 wildfires.
With a wicker basket slung over her arm, Heskett treads carefully into the damaged forest at Fort McMurray's edges, carefully picking up charred pieces of wood, large and small, with gloved hands.
She brings it back to her Dickinsfield home which, fortunately, was unharmed by the fire, and lets the sooty sticks dry for about a day.
As she sketches birch and pine trees, grass, and sometimes the moon or an eagle, onto paper, the charcoal crumbles and blackens her hands. Not just shades of grey, it pops out browns and greens at unexpected times. Charcoal has life in it, she says.
After discussing it with her husband and two teenagers, Heskett's family decided they would gift the artwork to interested families who lost their properties in the fire. Approximately 40 families have come to her home to collect their piece, and 15 have joined her in making their own creations, the product of destruction transforming into something beautiful.
Artist June Heskett searches for suitable charcoal pieces to sketch her drawings and thank-you cards for Fort McMurray residents in the Birchwood Trails area of Fort McMurray on Saturday, April 8, 2017.
"Someone said, knowing that it was on fire, and knowing what the fire took, it's just something that's left behind," Heskett said.
Some of the personalized drawings she's done include trees to represent each member of a family and a recreation of the last picture a homeowner took of their former house.
She donates some of her works as prizes for charitable auctions, and has also started doing workshops with school groups and mental health counsellors.
On the anniversary of the wildfire evacuation, Heskett will lead a group of Catholic elementary students through the process of creating their own charcoal drawings. She hopes it's a welcome distraction from a sombre anniversary.
"No one wants to go back to that scary place on May 3," she said.