‘To­tal mad­ness, com­plete chaos’

N.L. fam­ily loses ev­ery­thing in Fort McMur­ray wild­fires

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY ROSIE MULLALEY THE TELEGRAM rmul­la­ley@thetele­gram.com Twit­ter: Te­lyCourt

A day af­ter los­ing ev­ery­thing they owned in the Fort McMur­ray wild­fires, Randy and Dar­lene Burke are still in shock that they made it out alive.

“I thought we were go­ing to die try­ing to get out of there,” Randy Burke who’s orig­i­nally from Har­bour Grace, told The Telegram Wed­nes­day, May 4 af­ter spend­ing the night with a friend in Lac La Biche, south of Fort McMur­ray.

“I re­ally thought we were go­ing to burn in the car.”

The cou­ple and their two sons, Jeremy, 12, and Josh, 7, were among the tens of thou­sands of Fort McMur­ray res­i­dents who, with lit­tle warn­ing, were forced to flee their home as rag­ing wild­fires tore through the city.

I’ve got the wife and kids. We’ve got each other. That’s all that mat­ters to me. Randy Burke

The Burkes’ neigh­bour­hood, Abasand Heights, north of Bea­con Hill, was one of the first to get an evac­u­a­tion or­der. They had time to grab their safe and a lap­top and left with the clothes on their backs.

“It was to­tal mad­ness, com­plete chaos,” said Burke, who left work to get his fam­ily at the nearby school.

“It was fright­en­ing when it was all go­ing on. Driv­ing up the high­way (south on High­way 63), we were go­ing right through the fire. The flames were on both sides of the road and were shoot­ing across five lanes of traf­fic, right over the top of the car. We could feel the heat. It was wicked. I tried to get a bit of pro­tec­tion by stay­ing be­side a bus.”

The Burkes’ house was burnt to the ground. They also lost a car, a camper, a quad, bikes, all their fur­ni­ture and per­sonal be­long­ings, in­clud­ing fam­ily pho­tos and keep­sakes. Burke said his in­surance will likely cover the cost of the loss, but they can’t help but feel shaken and lost.

“When I talk about it, I get up­set,” Burke said, his voice qua­ver­ing. “To think we’re home­less right now, and to think about ev­ery­thing we’ve lost, it’s just un­be­liev­able.

“But I don’t think it will re­ally sink in un­til we go back and see where the house was. That will be a hard day. I don’t even want to think about it.”

The Burkes were on the way to Ed­mon­ton to stay at a ho­tel for a few days when they spoke to The Telegram via their cell­phone.

It’s was a much calmer drive than the one the day be­fore on Tues­day when they left Fort McMur­ray, when there was grid­lock traf­fic, with so many peo­ple try­ing to leave at once.

“I can’t de­scribe how dev­as­tat­ing it was,” said Dar­lene, who’s orig­i­nally from For­tune. “We saw the flames from a dis­tance. Within an hour, there was a wall of flame around us.

“There was so much fire around us on the road. We were all so scared. I was on the phone with (Randy’s mother and her hus­band) and said good­bye to them. I re­ally didn’t know if we were go­ing to make it.”

Dar­lene was also wor­ried about her sis­ter and brother in Fort McMur­ray.

She’s up­set that they didn’t get more no­tice be­fore having to leave.

“I’m having a hard time un­der­stand­ing how it got to this point,” she said.

She said city of­fi­cials told res­i­dents Mon­day there was no rea­son to panic and things were un­der con­trol.

“But by 1 (p.m.) Tues­day, things were out of con­trol,” she said.

“When the evac­u­a­tion started, ev­ery­body was pan­ick­ing, try­ing to find peo­ple. The fire was so close to homes, peo­ple had to leave ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing their pets. A lot of the houses were al­ready en­gulfed in flames. Peo­ple were walk­ing, try­ing to get out of the neigh­bour­hood. “It looked like a war zone.” It took them four hours to get safely to their friend’s home. They were in­un­dated with phone calls, Face­book post­ings and text mes­sages from fam­ily and friends in Fort McMur­ray and New­found­land.

Randy and Dar­lene plan to move back to New­found­land as soon as they get things sorted out with the in­surance com­pany, which they re­al­ize could take months.

They are thank­ful it was only ma­te­rial things they lost.

“I’ve got the wife and kids,” Randy said. “We’ve got each other. That’s all that mat­ters to me.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Randy and Dar­lene Burke, of Har­bour Grace, shown in this re­cent photo with their sons Jeremy and Josh, had their home in Fort MacMur­ray de­stroyed Tues­day by wild­fires.

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