Here's What It Was Like Escaping Fort McMurray With Only Minutes To Spare

    Erica Decker's home was among the ones destroyed in Beacon Hill.

    One family's narrow escape from the raging wildfire that consumed their home shows just how dangerous it was getting out of Fort McMurray on Tuesday, when the city was given a mandatory evacuation order.

    Erica Decker

    Erica Decker, a resident of the Beacon Hill neighbourhood, says her family was within minutes of not making it out alive.

    She told BuzzFeed Canada she only learned about how close the wildfires had gotten to the city when her boss got a call from his son's school in Beacon Hill asking he pick up his kids immediately.

    "Had he not told me, I wouldn't have made it home to get my family out," she said.

    This was her view as she left work and raced home to her family, located about 10 minutes away.

    Erica Decker

    Decker's mother Juanita was taking care of her two-year-old daughter Piper at home. Meanwhile, her husband Steven was asleep after working a night shift.

    Decker got home and could see the flames through the trees across from her house, and she said fiery debris was falling on her driveway as she ran inside.

    Erica Decker
    Erica Decker

    "I got inside, got our cats, grabbed a few things and then my husband came rushing in the door screaming for us to get out. I asked why, [and] he said look out the front window."

    "And when I did, the fire was directly across from us, it was almost on our lawn."

    Erica Decker

    Decker said that Beacon Hill and Abasand — two of the neighbourhoods most devastated by the fire — still weren't under mandatory evacuation at this time.

    "Lots of our neighbors didn't even know the fire had reached our doorsteps," she said, "I had to deliver the bad news to them."

    "This was our view as we sped away from our home."

    Erica Decker

    Decker and her husband jumped in one car, while her mother and daughter got in another. But while they managed to get on the road and get moving before gridlock set in, the second car fell behind.

    "My mom was in a vehicle with our daughter and we couldn't reach them. Cell towers were burning down, lines were jammed. We were in a panic we didn't know if they got out," Decker explained.

    Luckily, the whole family managed to leave town and reunite in Edmonton, where Decker's mother said she "had driven through flames" and that flaming debris "was flying on the highway and getting stuck under people's vehicles."

    Decker, who was documenting everything along the way — not knowing whether she would ever see her friends, family, or community again — shared this heartbreaking video on her Facebook profile as she and her husband drove away from their home.

    Facebook: video.php

    "We couldn't believe our home was being lost in front of our eyes. We were thankful to have gotten out. But we couldn't believe it was happening," Decker said.

    The family is recuperating in Edmonton for now, trying to come to terms with the loss. Decker said the mayor and fire chief have yet to answer specific questions about Beacon Hill, and why a mandatory evacuation order wasn't issued sooner. The neighbourhood was among the most heavily damaged, with about 70% of homes estimated to have been lost.

    Erica Decker

    The people charged with keeping her family safe failed her, she said.

    "I'm angry, yes. But mostly confused, concerned, frustrated. I'm hurt! We put our trust in these people to keep us informed and keep us safe and they failed to do that."

    Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

    Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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