Kiwi in Canada wildfire: 'I started crying, trying to process it'

  • 06/05/2016
Wildfires in Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada (Reuters)
Wildfires in Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada (Reuters)

Yesterday the entire population of Canada's Fort McMurray was forced to leave after a fire fanned southwards, destroying 1600 structures.

Around 120,000 residents fled in their cars, having to drive through the embers and smoke, unsure if they will have homes to return to.

Despite the damage, no lives have been claimed.

It's unknown how the fires began.

Kiwi in Canada wildfire: 'I started crying, trying to process it'


Kiwi Craig Rowland left with his wife Lara and two baby sons. He has been working as an operator for Canadian Natural Resources for the past 10 years.

He told Newshub they landed in Calgary at 7pm yesterday (local time) where they are staying a friend's house.

A car trip out of the city, which usually takes 45 minutes, took six hours. There is only one road out -- about 250km north or south.

A bridge in the south part was blocked, forcing everyone to go north to get away -- the direction in which the wind was blowing, with temperatures around 35degC.

He awoke Tuesday afternoon after a night shift and started packing up when he saw flames coming up the top of houses five or six streets from their home.

"We started throwing what we had in the car, at the same time the wind had kind of shifted in the last 30 minutes, ash was falling on us...[it was a] surreal situation, the air was quiet, no one was talking, just packing up the cars."

Mr Rowland is staying at a friend's house with his 20-month old son, who has had only a few hours' sleep since Tuesday afternoon. The family have nothing, and are unsure if they will have a home to go back to.

They don't expect to return for at least another month.

"Me and my wife sat on the couch watching the absolute devastation in my home community. I started crying...tearing up, trying to process it," he says.

"We're at the mercy of the wind and the fire, and [have] got to take it day by day."

He says he now has to focus on "the boys", and getting clothing, food, diapers and medication.

"We don't have anything; it's a little bit rough."

Mr Rowland has his passport and the clothes on his back.

Despite the situation, Mr Rowland says he thought the evacuation was well-handled.

"I think the first responders did what they could, they can't do anymore than the information they gave."

He says a lot of people in Fort McMurray were trained in First Aid, scene analysis and response.

"It was short notice, but we live in an area where you have to have your wits about you."

He wants to let friends and family know in New Zealand that they are safe and healthy.

At the moment he says their house is still standing.

"But what are we going back to? There's no community left."