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‘You feel so helpless’: BC residents fear for family members in Fort McMurray

How Canadians can help Fort Mac fire victims
WATCH: Online journalist Amy Judd has details of how Canadians can help evacuated residents impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfires.

B.C. residents could only sit and watch as the wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta burned through the community on Tuesday.

At least 53,000 residents of Fort McMurray have been displaced because of the fire emergency which has seriously damaged neighbourhoods and destroyed dozens of homes.

B.C. residents – like Reggie Chafe, who lives in B.C., has two sisters living in Fort McMurray – say all they can right now is hope their family members are safe.

“I heard from both of them,” he said.

Chafe’s family tried to get out of the area on Highway 63, but were forced to turn around and head north to Noralta Lodge after the highway was closed.

“You feel so helpless,” said Chafe. “You’re praying that they could have got out, but they didn’t so the next best thing is go north. But you can only go so far north right?”

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He said his sisters are focusing on getting to safety.

“They’re really nerve-wracked. My one sister’s driving, but she shouldn’t be driving because of the emotional state she’s in. But there’s no other choice.”

Brandy Verschoore,  who lives in Abbotsford, has a sister in Fort McMurray.

When she saw the evacuation notices on Tuesday, she called her sister and managed to reach her brother-in-law.

“There was ash falling all over everywhere, all over their house, all over their cars,” said Verschoore, describing what her brother-in-law told her.

“He said it was like a natural disaster movie.”

Verschoore’s sister tried to go and get gas as her neighbourhood had not been evacuated yet, but she didn’t make it and was turned around.

“All four lanes [on the highway] are going one direction, out of town,” said Verschoore. “The police told [my sister] to go on the sidewalk and drive on the sidewalk.”

She said her sister told her they were given no warning about a possible evacuation.

“They were given no warning, none,” she said.

“For their community, their neighbourhood, there was no warning. They police came around and said ‘you have to leave now.'”

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Verschoore said she knows her sister and her family are OK, but they are very concerned.

“She said the smoke is really bad, she said her tongue is swelling up and her throat hurts really bad.”

Former B.C. resident Jennifer Lenos lives about 50 kilometres outside of Fort McMurry. The sky was sunny on Tuesday morning she said. But when she exited the grocery store about an hour and a half later the skies were black and smoky.

“You could see the flames over one of the highways,” said Lenos. “Everybody’s panicking. It’s very scary right now.”

Her concern is now getting her family to safety.

“It’s very gloomy, there’s ash flying everywhere,” she said. “There’s just debris and stuff everywhere. It’s so smoky outside, it’s hard to breathe.”