'Like driving through a warzone' Convoy leads evacuees through smoky Fort McMurray
Some of Fort McMurray's fire evacuees got a glimpse of their city through the car window today. And what they saw didn't look good.
The evacuees were part of a massive convoy travelling south down Highway 63. For the past few days, many of them have been holed up at work camps or evacuation centres north of Fort McMurray. They've been waiting for the RCMP to lift a blockade on the highway. It's the only route in and out of Fort McMurray — so they had essentially been trapped.
Fort McMurray resident Marisa Heath was one of those evacuees. She, her husband and their two dogs, cat and seven kittens were part of the convoy on Friday.
Heath tells As It Happens host Carol Off that seeing her fire-ravaged city was "surreal."
"It was eerily surreal. I can't even put it into words how I felt."
"There was nothing but charred ashes, leftover foundation... vehicles everywhere, stranded by people who either ran out of gas or ran out time. It was like driving through a war zone," she says.
Heath and her husband had been camping on the side of the road for 36-hours before entering the convoy.
"It was frustrating at times, but we really banded together. Everyone out there really became a family. Sometimes, it was just moral support. Sometimes, we would use humour to lighten the mood."
Since the evacuation, Heath estimates that her and her husband have had about 10-hours of sleep altogether. But she says her exhaustion is nothing compared to that of first responders.
"The police have had very little sleep but they've bent over backwards for us. It means so much to us that these men and women are willing to put their lives on the line for us to keep us safe and calm. It means more than I can even describe."
On Friday morning, the RCMP had been allowing 50 cars at a time to pass through Fort McMurray for safety precautions, given how smoky the conditions of the city are.
By Friday afternoon, officials had temporarily halted the convoy because towering flames were dangerously close to Highway 63. When the convoy restarted, it had reduced the number of vehicles in each batch by half.