Jason Edmondson is rattled but safe and sound in Calgary after driving towards what looked like the gates of hell Tuesday to escape a wildfire that quickly engulfed entire neighbourhoods in Fort McMurray.
Edmondson shared the video of the treacherous drive out of town with Global News, showing flames scorching the hillside near Highway 63 — the only escape route heading north and south out of town for the tens of thousands of residents evacuating Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality.
READ MORE: Where to go if you’ve been evacuated
Taken from the passenger seat of their vehicle as Edmondson and his girlfriend fled their home in the Waterways neighbourhood, the video shows the raging fires consuming trees right up to the side of the road.
“I can feel the heat here, this is insane,” Edmondson says in the video. “You can feel the heat. Holy s—. This is f–ing crazy.”
Edmondson said he never actually got any official warning before rushing home to pack up and leave; he said he was downtown and saw how dangerous the situation was about to get. He and his girlfriend grabbed what they could and got in their vehicle.
“It didn’t feel right staying at home,” he told Friesen. “All of the neighbours were panicking … I could hear the flames crackling but I couldn’t see anything from where we were.”
But after pulling off his property, Edmondson could see the inferno he would have to drive into to get out of town.
He said the heat from the fire, which by Wednesday afternoon had engrossed 10,000 hectares of land in Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality, was nearly unbearable.
They were past the flames in a matter of seconds, but “then it was just smoke and chaos,” he said.
READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Why the fire engulfed the city within hours
Thousands of residents were on the move, at times creating gridlock conditions on Highway 63.
Fort McMurray fire interactive map: NASA data shows fire invading town
Now staying with friends in Calgary, Edmondson said it all happened so fast that “it didn’t feel like we were leaving for good.”
Officials say 90 per cent of the homes in Edmondson’s Waterways neighbourhood were lost. All told, some 1,600 homes and businesses were destroyed as the fire spread across the community.
The couple managed to bring their two dogs, but Edmondson said their cats didn’t make it. “We couldn’t get them,” he said.
Other than that, they only grabbed a few sentimental items from the home Edmondson said he lived in for the past eight years.
The couple had already been planning to start a new life at the end of this month. But with their home and belongings likely gone, now they’ll be starting from scratch.
Despite not knowing whether he and his girlfriend have a home to go back to Edmondson said he has nothing but praise for fire crews, police and city officials. “I’m pretty proud of our city for that.”
The municipality ordered a mandatory evacuation of all residents late Tuesday afternoon, the largest evacuation effort in Alberta’s history.
The situation in Fort McMurray and the surrounding communities is still perilous, as the temperature remains above 30 C and weather conditions Wednesday are still prime to fuel a fire.
“I want people to bear in mind and don’t get into a false sense of security we are in for a rough day,” said Darby Allen, regional fire chief of Wood Buffalo, during a Tuesday press conference.
“The humidity levels are going to be decreased quicker because the ambient temperature is hotter, so that means the fire will be able to go more ferociously and quicker than in days previously.
Fort McMurray residents posted video and images to social media that captured the shocking blaze that has threatened the Alberta community for the past three days.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said via Twitter he has spoken to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and offered his government’s support to battle the wildfire.
Ralph Goodale, federal minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said his government is watching the situation.
“I am watching the wildfire situation in Fort McMurray with great concern, and my thoughts go out to all of the residents being evacuated from their homes,” Goodale said in a statement Wednesday.
For latest updates on the situation unfolding in Alberta click here.