Fort McMurray man credits neighbour, girlfriend with saving him from burning home

Fort McMurray resident Chris Burrows narrowly escaped his home on Tuesday. His neighbour managed to wake him just minutes before flames hit his house.

'It was thick grey smoke and the flames were almost on us'

"We don't want to leave too early if not needed but we are ready to go. My husband is stuck at work trying to get home," said Mindy Francis who lives in Timberlea. (Mindy Francis/Facebook )

If it wasn't for a neighbour who frantically banged on his front door, Chris Burrows doesn't know if he would have escaped his house before the flames hit.

Burrows had his earplugs in and was sleeping before a night shift at around 1 p.m. on Tuesday when he just happened to wake up.

He ran downstairs in his boxers, and said his heart sank when he saw his neighbour trying to get in with his spare key.

"He said, 'Look out your back window.' [I] looked out the back of the patio, and within 200 metres I saw flames that were 100 metres high," Burrows said.

"It was thick grey smoke and the flames were almost on us. It's been a harrowing afternoon."

We are all safe, not the same can be said for our houses though. Both of our houses, I believe, now are reduced to ash.- Chris Burrows

Burrows, who owns a restaurant and two houses in Fort McMurray, said he had only about five minutes to gather whatever he could grab in a hamper before he ran out the door. He left Fort McMurray and is now safe.

His girlfriend, who called the neighbours to check on him, saved his life, he said.

She drove north out of the city with their children, and the family remains separated. 

"We are all safe, not the same can be said for our houses, though," Burrows said. "Both of our houses, I believe, now are reduced to ash."

He said it was a shocking turn of events. When he went to sleep Tuesday morning, the skies were clear and sunny, he said.

Things changed in what seemed like an instant. 

"Driving through that hell today downtown, it was just like an apocalypse," he said. "It was black smoke, grey smoke, orange haze everywhere, flames on both sides of the highway."

Burrows said he will spend a few nights in a hotel before trying to reunite with his children and girlfriend. 

"By God's grace, we're going to pick back up and rebuild. Strength in numbers, I think, is our strategy here. I want to thank all the emergency responders on the ground."