“You could hear things popping and blowing up. It was pretty scary.”
Tyler MacLeod drove all night. A long, sometimes frightening, drive from a burning Fort McMurray to Edmonton.
It would normally take four hours, but in the gridlocked traffic, it took the former Winnipegger more than nine.
“It was gridlocked. Every time there was a turn or a gas station, it was gridlocked. The gas stations were packed and every gas station was running out of gas. It was pretty crazy,” he said.
MacLeod says he spent much of yesterday comforted by the river that separated his community from the fire. But it was a false sense of security.
“We thought the river was going to keep us safe. We didn’t think the fire was going to jump. Boy, it just took off so fast. Within two hours, they were like, ‘ok, now it’s all mandatory. Get out of here’,” he said.
A mandatory evacuation went into effect for the entire city of 80,000 people early yesterday evening.
MacLeod and his roommate grabbed a few items of clothing and their computers and took off at 7 pm.
“We were driving downtown. Fort Mac is a nice little picturesque city with trees all around it and everywhere you went, it was just driving through fire. You could hear things popping and blowing up. It was pretty scary,” he said.
They weren’t sure when they reached the highway whether they would be sent north or south by emergency crews. They were directed south to Edmonton, where MacLeod can stay at his brother’s home.
Winnipeggers Return Home Safe From Fort McMurray
Joshua Sleigh touched down in Winnipeg today after finishing a 14-day work rotation near Fort McMurray. He was supposed to fly out yesterday but his bus was turned away because of the flames.
“It looked like a scene out of a movie or video game,” Sleigh told Global News. “There were thousands of people crowding a gas station. It was heartbreaking. Fort Mac has put food on my table.”
There were traffic jams on the local highways, as smoke billowed all around. A gas station exploded, while homes and business burned to the ground.
Jason St. Pierre was in Fort McMurray on a business trip when he was told to leave his hotel. He couldn’t fly out there so he had to drive to Edmonton, which took twice as long as usual because of all the traffic.
“It’s surreal. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. When you see trees that are 20-feet tall on fire, it was amazing. It’s sad to see what happened there.”
Officials say eighty per cent of homes in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood have been destroyed. Serious losses are reported in a couple of other communities. Luckily, no injuries have been reported.
The Alberta Premier says 1,600 structures have been destroyed as of late morning Thursday.
Fire officials believe the fire will only get worse Wednesday. A gas shortage is becoming a growing concern.
Craig Picton was sent north of Fort McMurray up to Grey Wolf Lodge Tuesday afternoon before flames engulfed the highway leading to it.
The general manager of Harvard radio stations in the city had to shut down their operations around 3 o’clock.
“I had to make the call when I heard the fire was a couple of kilometres away from the station that it was time to evacuated,” he said.
He doesn’t know if the radio station, or his home, is still standing.
His news team is trying to keep listeners updated through social media while they figure out a strategy going forward.
Manitoba Standing By To Assist
Some firefighters in Winnipeg are eager to take off and help their friends out west.
But Alex Forrest, President of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, says they’re urging them not to self-deploy.
He says if their Alberta counterparts ask for help, they will mobilize accordingly.
But he says they’re thinking about their colleagues as they try to save their community.
“These firefighters are fighting fires in one area of the city… they’re finding out that their own houses have been burned in other areas. So while they’re trying to save other houses, they’ve lost their own houses. It really is a very tragic situation,” he said.
The province and CFB Shilo say they have not received any requests for emergency assistance.
How Can You Help?
The Canadian Red Cross says the biggest thing they need right now – financial donations.
Jenn McManus of the Red Cross says that helps them do what they need to do in a timely manner.
“Really right now from the Red Cross perspective, this is the best way to support those who have been impacted,” she said.