Towers of dark grey smoke in the city. Bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, with some people running out of gas mid-journey.
It's been a chaotic 24 hours for Chris Alton, a Fort McMurray born-and-raised electrician, who was just getting off work from Syncrude when he learned that the whole town was evacuating the city due to wildfires engulfing the area.
"It's been pretty hectic. I left Syncrude at around three o'clock, and they told everyone to go to Mac Island (McDonald Island). You could see the flames starting to come into downtown. We evacuated downtown, and I was just on foot at the time. I met with my parents and started driving north. It was bumper to bumper traffic. Five kilometres an hour, and everyone was just running out of gas."
Alton remembers his mother asking: "Why is everyone pulling off to the side of the road?" It was because they'd run out of fuel, and their cars could go no further.
He and his family managed to make it to a camp at Suncor, around 80 kilometres northeast of the city, where families have settled into the halls. He says companies like Suncor have rallied to help evacuees during Alberta's biggest ever fire evacuation, with nearly 90,000 people being displaced.
Despite the evacuation and stress, Alton said he was able to get enough sleep overnight. "They've got pets and animals here, lots of volunteers, people and food. Suncor is even giving people gas, around 30 litres of gas," he said, in addition to settling people into camps.
According to Suncor spokesperson Paul Newmarch, around 2,000 people — both employees and non-employees — are currently staying at the oil sands company's camp for shelter.
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It was a surreal scenario for Alton, who didn't even have time to go home and gather his belongings before fleeing Fort McMurray.
"I just left work so I had my backpack from work, but just the clothes on my back. The air was really bad in town. There was a dark smoke cloud, dirt and ash everywhere...it was apocalyptic," he said. Still, it was fortunate that he left when he did: Alton had time to regroup with his parents, and made it to the road just as 20,000 people were flooding out on the highways, some heading north, others trying to escape to the south.
Although he feels the Alberta government could have handled the situation better by having more water bombers, for the most part, he agrees there was no way to prepare for the scale of damage caused in Fort McMurray.
Alton says the mood of people around him has not been one of panic and distress, but dealing with the situation stoically.
"People are coming together pretty well. I think the losses haven't really set in. Where I'm from, it's just all gone. I've seen pictures on Facebook," he says.
He said, however, that it's been hard, especially for people like him who have deep roots in the Fort McMurray community.
"I was born and raised in this town. A lot of memories. We're going to rebuild. Most of the infrastructure's intact, and our insurance covers our homes. I imagine most people are in the same boat."
People wishing to help victims of the Fort McMurray fire can text REDCROSS to 30333 to donate 5$, or through website. Donations by phone can be made by calling 1-800-418-1111