Es­cap­ing Fort McMur­ray

Car­bon­ear welder re­counts fiery ride to air­port

The Compass - - NEWS - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Mark Ware­ham was right in the thick of it try­ing to find his way to the air­port in Fort McMur­ray. Trav­el­ling south through down­town Fort McMur­ray, he came across lots of smoke and traf­fic, and even­tu­ally he was driv­ing di­rectly past the flames.

“It was like the apoca­lypse, driv­ing through all the flames,” the Car­bon­ear na­tive told The Com­pass last Wednesday.

“There was a few times that I was go­ing to turn around and come back and jump the me­dian in my car or what­ever, but I just couldn’t do it.”

His last day of work be­fore re­turn­ing home for two weeks was Tues­day, May 3. Ware­ham lived in Fort McMur­ray for nine years be­fore mov­ing back to Car­bon­ear last Au­gust with his wife Sherri.

He left work early at 2 p.m. and went back to his condo to col­lect his be­long­ing be­fore hit­ting the road.

Ware­ham pe­ri­od­i­cally had to stop due to other drivers who were tak­ing pic­tures, which slowed his progress. Ap­proach­ing Bea­con Hill, he could see the en­tire com­mu­nity to his right was en­gulfed in flames. At this point, he was still con­sid­er­ing turn­ing around.

“I drove through all the smoke and the flames and I man­aged to get through to the top of Bea­con Hill, and I jumped lanes to the north­bound traf­fic, which RCMP made into a south­bound lane, so they opened up the four lanes to go south,” said Ware­ham.

From there, he made it to Air­port Road. Faced with the de­ci­sion to ei­ther con­tinue south or try to catch a flight, Ware­ham chose to con­tinue on to the air­port.

For­tu­nately, Sherri man­aged to book him a seat on the last flight from Fort McMur­ray to Edmonton Tues­day night. Ware­ham’s flight home ar­rived in St. John’s at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

While he feels good to be home, his heart is truly with the res­i­dents of Fort McMur­ray. Hav­ing lived there for so many years, Ware­ham knows a lot of peo­ple who will lose every­thing they own as a re­sult of the fire.

“There’s ac­tu­ally a nice few peo­ple from the Car­bon­ear area and Har­bour Grace that’s up there, and a few of them that I’m af­ter talk­ing to are af­ter los­ing their houses al­ready,” he said.

“They are safe, but my heart is still def­i­nitely in Fort Mac. I def­i­nitely com­mend the fire­fight­ers and the RCMP work­ing at this.”

As for his em­ploy­ment prospects, Ware­ham’s work site is ap­prox­i­mately 35 kilo­me­tres north of Fort McMur­ray, and com­pany hous­ing has not been dam­aged.

“I’m on my two weeks off right now, and I’m just go­ing to call ahead be­fore I go back.”

Know­ing full well how much the com­mu­nity is set to lose as a re­sult of this dev­as­tat­ing event, Ware­ham ex­pects it will come back strong.

“I guar­an­tee you, the way that com­mu­nity is there, they’re def­i­nitely go­ing to come back twice as strong and def­i­nitely re­build. It may take awhile … They’ll all get through it for sure.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Car­bon­ear’s Mark Ware­ham with his in­fant daugh­ter Rylee and wife Sherri.

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