New Brunswick

Fort McMurray workers reunited with loved ones in N.B.

There were tears of joy and warm embraces at airports across New Brunswick on Thursday as families were reunited with members who had been working in Fort McMurray and managed to escape the ever-spreading wildfire.​

Poignant scenes of tears and embraces at airports across the province after harrowing escapes from wildfire

Catherine McKay welcomed her son Gerry McKay home from Fort McMurray Thursday at the Saint John Airport. (CBC)

There were tears of joy and warm embraces at airports across New Brunswick on Thursday as families were reunited with members who had been working in Fort McMurray and managed to escape the ever-spreading wildfire.​

They say they are grateful their loved ones are safe and are trying not to think about the uncertainty that lies ahead.

"It feels amazing," said Catherine McKay, who drove to Saint John from St. George at "almost the speed limit" to greet her son, Gerry. "I'm just thrilled."

Although McKay was in almost constant contact with her son, she says she felt scared and helpless watching media reports as he made his way home through the inferno that grew eight times larger overnight to 85,000 hectares.

The camp where he was working as an oil sands inspector was evacuated to the north.

"He said, 'Mom, I'm looking out the window and there's cars crashing into each other, there's panic, people are running … We can see the smoke, it's getting really strong."

He told her there was a gas shortage, but he planned to find some people to carpool south with.

"So of course, your heart's thumping, thinking, 'Oh dear Lord God, is this the right way to go? Everyone else is saying go north and he's trying to head south.'"

'Just something out of a movie'

It was a long and often frightening voyage for Gerry McKay, who flew out of Edmonton. "I've been up for about 36 hours now," he said.

"Just basic mayhem to get out of the camp, to get through Fort McMurray, to ge through the fires, the smoke. Chaos. Trucks going everywhere, cars everywhere. Just something out of a movie."

Mike Wilson's daughter was all smiles knowing her dad would soon be home safe. 'We're going to scream 'Daddy' and jump into his arms.' (CBC)
Lindsay Wilson, who was waiting for her husband Mike at the Saint John Airport with their young son and daughter, says it was a "big relief" to know he was on that flight.

"It's pretty tough not knowing, you know, when you're going to get them home. I mean, you know that they're on their way and en route, but it's driving through fires and smoke … and everything that they're going through, it's pretty scary."

"It's good to be home," he agreed, after his children leapt into his arms, exclaiming "Daddy," and he shared a kiss with his wife.

The family isn't sure what lies ahead in terms of work and income. "We'll really just kind of have to wait and play it by ear and kind of see how it goes," said Lindsay Wilson.

"I mean they'll definitely be no paycheques I'm sure for a lot of people for the work that they had done coming in for a while, so we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed and go from there."

'You can't help but feel for them'

Still, she considers themselves among the lucky ones.

"We have a home here to go back to, where a lot of people don't," she said.

Lindsay Wilson says she isn't sure what lies ahead for her family now that her husband Mike is home from the oilsands, but they're safe and together. (CBC)
Oilsands worker Joe Mcauliffe says he, too, is thinking of those who haven't been able to come home to the east and have lost everything in the fire.

"We were in camp and there's families coming in staying in an eight by eight room, husband, wife, two kids, dogs, completely devastated," he said.

"You know, they're just in a state of shock up there, you can't help but feel for them."

Terry Lavigne, who arrived at the Greater Moncton International Airport, also reflected on the losses felt by the city that has provided him with crucial work.

"It was definitely scary, it's shocking, right? Like you know, Fort McMurray has done well for the community and for Canada, for all of us from the east coast," he said.

"And I wish nothing but the best and I hope they can rebuild and we can continue working."

With files from Matthew Bingley