Fort McMurray wildfire: P.E.I. man in convoy 'could reach out and touch' fire

A P.E.I. man joined the convoy through Fort McMurray and out of the wildfire zone Friday on his way to Calgary, which he now calls home.

Vernon Gillespie describes 'scary' drive in convoy out of Fort McMurray

Grass fires burn along the side of the road as the convoy heads out of Fort McMurray on Friday. (Submitted by Vernon Gillespie)

A P.E.I. man says fires were so close to his car as he headed out of Fort McMurray on Friday he could reach out and touch them.

Vernon Gillespie was relieved to be in the convoy leaving an oil camp in northern Alberta, going through Fort McMurray, and out of the fire zone.

But it was more frightening than he expected. Gillespie said there were hundreds of vehicles in front of him, and it was very slow moving.

"There was one section there that we went through where the smoke was so thick that we couldn't see anything in front of us for a few feet. And then the fire, you could reach out and touch it. It was a little scary," he said.

RCMP officers were stationed at exits heading out of Fort McMurray on Friday. (Submitted by Vernon Gillespie)

Gillespie said he and his co-workers got word Thursday night at a meeting that they are being laid off for three to six months, They headed out Friday morning from the Noralta camp where they were staying.

Many Fort McMurray residents who fled north to escape the wildfire were escorted back through the city in the convoy. It's the only route south.

Gillespie is originally from Milton, P.E.I., but now has a home in Calgary, and that's where he's headed.

"Everybody wants to get home. We are all tired and it has definitely been a roller coaster for everybody up here," he said.

Thousands of vehicles passed through Fort McMurray on Friday, heading to more permanent accommodations south of the fire zone. (CBC)

"I am fortunate enough to get to drive home to a home, where some of these people lost everything and my heart and soul goes out to them all. I feel so bad."

The view from Vernon Gillespie's car as he drives in the convoy out of Fort McMurray. (Vernon Gillespie)

Gillespie said many of the women and children were already taken out of the oil camp area by air.

He wanted to drive because it's hard to find work without a vehicle.

with files from Angela Walker