Like tens of thousands of other people, Fahd Najmeddine fled Fort McMurray Tuesday, trying not to panic as he tried to get his family away from the out-of-control forest fire.
He said residents in the area are used to seeing smoke, but that afternoon, conditions changed on a dime.
“By 4 o’clock the whole world was orange and hazy. There was ash falling out of the sky the clouds had blocked out the sun.”
That’s when his family piled into their vehicle and tried to get out.
“The last 24 hours have been basically… very surreal,” Najmeddine said. “It’s been something that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.
“It was almost like driving through Judgment Day, like driving through Armageddon, like Terminator 3 or something like that.
“People pulled over on the sides of the roads, heads in their hands, wondering what they’re going to do, out of gas, broken down, trying to get out of down, trying to get north, trying to get south, just trying to get away from the fire,” he said.
Despite the chaos, Najmaddine and his family managed to stay calm. His kids in the backseat just thought they were going to visit grandma.
“You just focus on the task at hand and that’s getting your family out of this mess and into a safe place.”
Najmaddine said, while the experience was horrifying, the best of humanity shone through.
“Driving through Athabasca… there’s a big long hill… right at the bottom of the hill there’s three ladies standing there with water and food,” he recalled, his voice breaking.
His family arrived safely in Edmonton at 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Clarice Northcott, Don Lacroix and their 13-year-old son were forced from their home and said the past 24 hours have been “total craziness.”
“We had to come up through Beacon Hill through flames and fire… black smoke that I’ve never seen before,” Northcott said, her voice trembling.
“And then run like a bat out of hell. Run. Just run. We never made it back to our house, we didn’t grab anything.”
“It was just total chaos. Just people trying to get out of town,” Lacroix added. “It just happened so quick… Within a blink of an eye, within probably 20 minutes, everything just fell apart.”
The couple said their son, Colton, was in the backseat of the car. He was terrified.
“Going through the flames, I’ve never seen him so upset in my life,” Northcott said.
“He was petrified. He was petrified, he was crying,” Lacroix.
The family arrived safely at the Lac La Biche evacuation centre where the support has been overwhelming.
Northcott said when she closes her eyes she can still see the flames. But while it’s been an intense few days, she said the most important thing is they made it out safe.
“What’s going to happen is going to happen up there,” she said. “We just have to deal with it.”
With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News