The 10,000 hectare wildfire burning through Fort McMurray, Alta. has prompted the evacuation of the entire city, including some former Shuswap residents who were forced to flee from the flames.
Robynn Scutt, who grew up in the Salmon Arm area, recounted a stressful night trying to evacuate the city, when the Market News reached her by phone Wednesday.
Scutt and her fiancé Nathan Clack attempted to leave their neighbourhood in the Timberlea area on the north end of Fort McMurray at approximately 7 p.m. Tuesday night but did not get out of the city until about midnight.
“The smoke was so thick you couldn’t see more than a few vehicles ahead of us,” Scutt said.
The highway to the south of town was closed because the fire had crossed it when Scutt and Clack left their home, but had been reopened by the time they negotiated the gridlock between their home and the highway.
Scutt said that all four lanes of the highway were open to southbound traffic beyond the city limits, alleviating some of the congestion.
Scutt and Clack slept in their vehicle on the side of the road once they were outside the city, before resuming the drive towards Grassland, Alta. approximately 150 kilometres north of Edmonton.
“A drive that normally should have taken two hours took five,” Scutt said.
Scutt said her house is safe at the moment, and in one of the least damaged neighbourhoods, but some of her friends have already received news that their houses have burned.
A number of Shuswap workers commute between here and the Fort McMurray area for work.
Salmon Arm resident Melissa Nasby said her husband’s work camp 50 km south of Fort McMurray has not been evacuated yet, but is prepared to do so if necessary.
Nasby said there are concerns about a water shortage at the camp as they get their supplies from Fort McMurray.
Many residents in the Shuswap still recall their own evacuation experiences from the Salmon Arm-Silver Creek Wildfire of 1998, and are wondering how to help.
The Canadian Red Cross is taking donations online or by texting “REDCROSS” to 30333.
The Red Cross is already providing emergency resources such as blankets, cots and personal hygiene kits to Fort McMurray evacuees.
In addition, QC Universal Coatings and Salmon Arm Trailers have teamed up to try to fill a trailer with items that Fort McMurray residents who have lost their homes will need in the days to come.
Necessary items include: hygiene kits, medicine, diapers, formula, pet food, children’s toys, kitchen items, towels and bedding. Cash donations will also be accepted.
The trailer will be set up and accepting donations outside QC Universal Coatings located at 4310-45 St. SE in Salmon Arm, until Saturday, May 7, and again from May 9 until May 12.
The trailer will then leave for the Edmonton on May 13 to drop off the donations at the Edmonton rescue centre.