WATCH: Some Vancouver Island residents returned home Wednesday from Fort McMurray and describe the terror of escaping the wall of flames. April Lawrence reports.
Ryan Fletcher was picking up his bags at Victoria International Airport Wednesday afternoon, grateful to be home after a terrifying 24 hours escaping the flames of Fort McMurray.
“Scary, kind of weird, surreal, a lot to take in all at once,” said Fletcher, who works as an industrial electrician in the Fort McMurray area.
He was one of many Vancouver Islanders forced to flee Tuesday as a wildfire engulfed the city and surrounding area.
“The one side of the highway was all on fire and there’s cars in the ditch, people stranded, it was pretty crazy,” he said.
Oak Bay’s Amber Lafreniere, who works as a server in downtown Fort McMurray, caught the scene on camera as she escaped the city.
“All of a sudden it just explodes even bigger and you’re just like oh my gosh this is it, we’re going to die,” she said.
“It was really traumatizing, I mean I was in tears, I was hysterical, I didn’t think I was going to survive.”
Lafreniere, who is currently staying in Edmonton, said she could barely see through the thick smoke, and her car windows were hot to the touch.
“It felt like I was in the pit of hell or something.”
Victoria’s Suk Sandhu took video of the massive wall of flames surrounding his vehicle as he fled.
“Just debris that was flying all over the highway and hitting the ground and starting other fires,” said Sandhu on the phone from Alberta.
“It was like driving through the night and then daylight again when we got through it, it was really something to see for sure,” described Kevin Cawthorne, a Nanoose Bay resident who arrived at the Nanaimo Airport Wednesday morning.
For people like Cawthorne it’s a relief to have made it out safely.
“It’s nice to be home for sure, hopefully everything is good up there today,” he said.
Some are choosing to stay behind.
“Hopefully once it simmers down we might just turn around, see what’s left, pick up some pieces and maybe do some volunteer work if it’s a possibility,” said Lafreniere.
For those who make their livelihoods in the Alberta city, the future is uncertain.
“Just wait and watch and listen,” said Ryan Fletcher.
And continue to hope the once booming Alberta community can bounce back from such incredible devastation.