Former Pitt Meadows resident shares personal account of Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation

Flames rose high in the sky above Fort McMurray as the town was evacuated on Tuesday. -
Flames rose high in the sky above Fort McMurray as the town was evacuated on Tuesday.
— image credit:

by Eric Zimmer and Ashley Wadhwani

Raymond Warke was safe in an Edmonton hotel Wednesday evening, but it was a different story for the former Pitt Meadows resident on Tuesday.

Warke – a 29-year-old heavy equipment tech who lived in Pitt Meadows for 22 years – was on a training session in Fort McMurray’s Taiganova Industrial Park when the order came down to evacuate the city.

“[At] noon, the sky was blue, [at] 2 p.m. our manager read us a report from the city, [that] areas were being evacuated north.”

He couldn’t actually see the fire from the shop, he added.

Warke tried to go home to his house in the Abasand neighbourhood to gather his belongings, “but was turned away.”

He returned to his shop and “the city wide evac was given over the radio... asking to evac north to a mine site camp 20 kilometres north."

However, this proved to be impossible, as “the roads were littered with abandoned vehicles and people were driving irrational,” he said.

At this point, Warke and his coworkers made the decision to wait until the highway was open southbound and make their way to Edmonton. “There were people riding horses with others in tow out of town," he added.

As for the state of his home, Warke guessed it’s probably gone.

“Our neighbors have a monitored security alarm and told us via text that the fire sprinklers have gone off and smoke alarm,” he said.“So we’re assuming it’s gone.”

Warke was renting, and the homeowner is a close friend and roommate of his.

He also shared the space with a five-month-old puppy, who Warke and his roommates were able to get out of the house safely.

And it’s the home's second bout with fire.

“This house burned down last year and we just moved back in on November,” he said. “So we know the feeling already. It’s just possessions to me.”

Warke is also aware that people back home have been trying to get a hold of him, and explained "the phone lines were down all day. We could only text."

He spoke highly of community-mindedness and resilience that he witnessed from fellow evacuees, as well those who came and offered help.

"It's just how amazing all the locals were, sharing food and water. Farmers along the highways giving out their farm fuel to help anyone who needs it for free," he said.

"The people were amazing. No one realizes the heart that the people have up there. It's the best community feel of anywhere I have ever been."

Maple Ridge steam-fitter Jason Bulizuk returned from Fort Mc-Murray in March after a nine-week stint working for Banister Pipelines on a Suncor pipeline being built to Edmonton. He shared a two-bedroom apartment downtown with a roommate for $2,000 a month, about one-third less than he would have paid five or six years ago, he said.

He has no idea if the apartment is still standing, but says it's unfortunate that Fort McMurray had evolved into more of a family community in recent years only to be hit by the downturn in oil prices and now the wildfires.

"It's an utter disaster, a worstcase scenario," he said, noting that highway improvements in recent years should help with evacuations. "That's the sad part. It used to be more of a transient population. It has catered to people who want to live and work up there. It was going in the right direction."



-With files from the Vancouver Sun


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