Fort McMurray wildfire seen through the eyes of Islanders there
'It looked like a war zone,' says Kris Cudmore
An Islander living and working in Fort McMurray, Alta., says he wouldn't wish what he's going through on his worst enemy.
A giant wildfire destroyed an entire neighbourhood and burned homes and businesses in several others Tuesday, and continues to rage out of control.
When CBC Island Morning spoke with Kris Cudmore Wednesday morning, he had already been driving for 10 and a half hours trying to get to Edmonton, which is normally a four-hour drive.
He says he's exhausted mentally, emotionally and physically, and it was heartbreaking leaving the city.
"To watch it in flames in my rear view mirror was really sad," said Cudmore.
'Looked like a war zone'
By late afternoon, the entire city of 60,000 had been ordered evacuated. Residents by the thousands fled the wildfire, and for hours caused gridlock on Highway 63.
"It was a very traumatizing experience and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy," said Cudmore.
Driving through the city was a surreal experience.
"It looked like a war zone. It looked like a zombie movie. There were abandoned vehicles in the middle of the street, on the side of the street, stuck in ditches," said Cudmore.
He says he even saw animals running out of the woods.
'We could see flames from the driveway'
Shannon Comeau, who is from Charlottetown but lives in Fort McMurray, said she headed north with her husband, their three children and her parents when the evacuation order came in.
They arrived at a work camp, only to find it full with people lined up out the door. They managed to get a meal at the camp before being redirected south to Edmonton.
Comeau said the family fled their home with very little.
"We grabbed our passports, we grabbed tooth brushes, we grabbed eye glasses. My eldest son is autistic. We made sure to grab his medication," she said.
"We know when we left, we could see flames from our driveway. I never have been able to see flames that close and not be affected."
The family saw multiple buildings in flames and some areas with nothing left on their trip.
Comeau doesn't know if her house is still standing, but isn't confident it will be spared.
A day at the beach was no picnic
Montague's Santana Courtney was at a lake outside Fort McMurray with a friend when they got a call saying the town was being evacuated. The friend's daughter was in Fort McMurray, so the two took off in Courtney's truck to pick her up.
"As we were getting closer to town, the fire was like coming up on the side of the highway and I was saying, 'We're not gonna make it. We can't make it. We have to turn around,'" said Courtney.
The two didn't turn around, but Courtney recalls driving like it was a video game.
'Thank the Lord'
"I drove over the median. I drove past cops. I drove up on the side of the road over concrete, everything," she said.
The pair was eventually forced to turn around and the friend's daughter was picked up by her grandparents.
Courtney didn't have any personal belongings with her, just beach clothes, a kayak and her truck.
She's staying with a cousin in Edmonton, which is where she lived for four years before moving to Fort McMurray about a year ago.
Courtney spoke with her landlord and it appears her building is fine.
"Thank the Lord," she said.
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With files from Island Morning