Fort McMurray wildfire evacuee's video captures his harrowing escape
'I could see and hear the flames crackling behind my neighbours' homes,' said Michel Chamberland
Among the dozens of videos and photos that have emerged from the Fort McMurray, Alta., fire, one that gives a view of how close some people have come to the smoke and flames is particularly shocking.
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Beacon Hill evacuee Michel Chamberland's video captures him fleeing the fire. Beacon Hill is one of the worst-hit communities, with about 70 per cent of the homes and buildings destroyed in the growing wildfire.
Chamberland said he returned home Tuesday morning from his overnight shift at an oil company, slept for a few hours, then got a call from his friend at around 2 p.m. MT telling him that his neighbourhood was being evacuated.
"I was not — clearly not aware. I wasn't sure how true or accurate his information was until I got up and took a few steps outside and really saw what was going on," he told CBC News. "My neighbourhood was practically empty, and I could see and hear the flames crackling behind my neighbours' homes. And that clearly told me it was time to go."
He quickly grabbed some clothes, passport and wallet, and left in his truck. His dashboard video shows his drive through the suburban neighbourhood near Fort McMurray, with flames tearing at the trees lining the road.
In one part of the video, a motorcyclist is seen passing some of the cars that were making their way out — gridlock slowing everything down.
You could feel the wind blowing into the flames and the flames would push or come towards you, almost licking at your car, on top of your car. And that's when you feel the heat and the embers started falling on you.- Michel Chamberland, Beacon Hill evacuee
Chamberland said traffic moved slowly.
"You could feel the wind blowing into the flames and the flames would push or come towards you, almost licking at your car, on top of your car. And that's when you feel the heat and the embers started falling on you," he said.
He said despite everyone's rush to get out, it was relatively calm and orderly.
Chamberland said he never thought that he might not make it out, but said it crossed his mind that he might have to start driving on the sidewalk and over some fences to get out.
He's now safely with his parents in Edmonton, but said he's feeling "pretty empty, saddened, devastated, shocked. Still trying to take in the whole situation and what happened. You just never, never expect this."
Chamberland said he's not sure what to expect when he eventually is allowed to return to the neighbourhood.
"Expect the worst, hope for the best."