‘Total madness, complete chaos’
N.L. family loses everything in Fort McMurray wildfires
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.”
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.