Fort Mac fire evacuees arrive in Calgary with tales of fear, pain
'I believe our city will be rebuilt. I live there, that is my home'
Dozens of Fort McMurray-area residents have arrived in Calgary with tales of fear, pain and confusion as they leave their homes in the largest fire-related evacuation in the province's history.
- Without rain, massive Fort McMurray wildfire expected to keep growing
- 'Very rare' provincewide fire ban issued for Alberta
Daniil Tarasenco has lived in the northern oil and gas community for about 6 years. He and his family left their home Tuesday evening.
The family is now temporarily set up at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) residences.
Tarasenco said it's been a scary time.
"A lot of our friend's houses burned down," the 12-year-old said.
"It was crazy smoke. When we saw it in our school everyone was going crazy, some people were crying."
He still doesn't know what will be left to go back to.
"I thought that we are not going to be able to come back. We are going to have to move [to Calgary] and I am sad because all of my friends and a lot of the people I know were [in Fort McMurray].
His mom, Alexandra Tarasenco, says it's been a crazy 48 hours.
"Some of our friends are still north of Wood Buffalo so we are worried about them," Alexandra said.
She said a lot of people, including herself, are in pain right now.
"I have been heavily involved in the community and that is where my heart lies. It hurts a lot. It suddenly hurts a lot because there are so many great people who put so much of their heart and soul to make this community a great place to live for families and now seeing it being destroyed just like that," Alexandra said.
The Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) and the Calgary Fire Department gave status updates Thursday afternoon.
Chief Tom Sampson said while Canada Task Force 2 is now in place in the Fort McMurray area, CEMA's focus in Calgary is on settling evacuees safely.
Sampson said by mid-afternoon about 100 people were being housed at SAIT, which has a capacity of around 400. There's another 600 spaces at other post-secondary institutions in the city.
But Sampson said Suncor is about to evacuate a large number of people from northern camps, so it could be several thousand.
"That is one of the wild cards," he said, adding it will happen.
"We will provide them Calgary hospitality. We know many Calgarians are eager to help and that is just the Calgary way."
Calgary fire Chief Steve Dongworth said they have a revised deployment plan for his crew. They will work shifts over two-day periods, excluding travel, to give firefighters more time to recoup.
He said about 400 people from the department have volunteered to help.
Back at SAIT, a spokesperson says they are trying to make the residences as comfortable as possible.
"Our recreational facilities have opened up, the wellness centre is open, the library of course is open with books, computers, phone chargers, study rooms," Melanie Simmons said.
"So we are rallying around SAIT to try to help these people as best we can."
Assane Gueye was forced to evacuate with literally just the clothes on his back.
"I didn't get to take anything. I just had sandals and shorts," Gueye said.
Initially, he was focused on the material things that he has lost.
"What about my stuff, my computer, I have important stuff inside it, my tablet, my passport, all those things."
But then, while listening to the radio while evacuating, he saw a bigger picture.
"I was thinking about all those people who lost their houses. Me, I was just renting," he said.
"For those people it's worse."
Joe Wang, a contractor who has lived in Fort McMurray for about eight years with his wife and two children, says it's a time of great sadness and confusion for many people.
"I saw lots of smoke, just covered my whole city and everyone there is sad. So sad," Wang explained.
"My house is near the Wood Buffalo golf club, about two kilometres away, I hear that more than 60 houses gone from there. I don't know. I don't know. God bless my city."
He says oil companies in the area went above and beyond to help people.
"Lots of oil companies, they didn't care who you were, if you needed help, you could just walk in there, any camp. They offered you food and a place to sleep. Thousands of guys."
Despite what he's been through though, Wang is optimistic.
"I am a lucky guy," he said.
"I believe our city will be rebuilt. I live there, that is my home."
With files from Andrew Brown and Mike Symington