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Tuesday 25 October 2016

'We had to drive through fire to get out of the city' - Irish woman and fiancé forced to flee from raging Canada blaze

Geraldine Gittens

Published 06/05/2016 | 15:59

Seana Morgan Campbell (28) and her fiancé Trent Deleuww.
Seana Morgan Campbell (28) and her fiancé Trent Deleuww.
Wildfire is worsening along highway 63 Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Reuters
A Canadian Joint Operations Command aerial photo shows wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada in this image posted on tweeter May 5, 2016. Reuters

An Irish woman who was evacuated from the raging fires of Canadian town Fort McMurray with her fiancé has told how they were forced to drive through the fire in order to make their exit.

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Seana Morgan Campbell (28) from Drogheda fled her home in Fort McMurray, Alberta on Tuesday with her fiancé Trent Deleuww and her mother-in-law when city officials announced a mandatory evacuation of the town.

“On Tuesday we went into downtown and went into a mall and when we came out, we saw that the whole sky was black and red. Mountains were covered in fire, and ash was falling and covering the trucks around.”

“We had to try and get a cab back to the house because they were going to start evacuating people. We were told we didn’t need to evacuated ourselves, but literally within a few minutes there was mandatory evacuation of everyone in Fort McMurray.”

“Myself and my fiancé just grabbed a few bits of clothes and our passports. Luckily my fiancé grabbed some food because I didn’t even think of that, he grabbed some canned food out of the fridge and water.”

“We have three German Shepherds too, so myself and my fiancé and my mother-in-law piled into the truck with the three dogs.”

When the family travelled out onto the motorway, they soon discovered that their only exit route was already choked up with traffic.

“They were so backed up on the north side of Fort McMurray that they sent us back south so we actually had to drive through the fire to get out.”

Wildfire is worsening along highway 63 Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Reuters
Wildfire is worsening along highway 63 Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. Reuters

“There was grass and trees on fire leading down to the road. Houses were exploding; the insulation and bits of the houses were flying everywhere.”

“Some of the cars were catching fire because it was so hot to get through it. Some cars stopped working because ash got caught, so there were lots of abandoned cars.”

“I was panicked when we were stuck in the traffic. We were in the middle of six lanes of traffic and no one was moving. We were passing apartment buildings and behind them there was a wall of black and red smoke. We were trapped in the car and there was nowhere for us to go.”

Eventually, they arrived in by a lake and decided to rest for the night.

“We got out and drove up to a place called Anzac, a first nation reservation, and we pulled in there by the lake. We had a tent trailer so we stayed in that because we wanted my father-in-law to get to us.”

“We went to sleep on Wednesday night at about eight in the tent trailer and we got a call to say Anzac was being evacuated, and we saw that the forest beside us was on fire, so we had to flee. We couldn’t even take the trailer, we had to get out.”

The fire was spreading at 50km/h. The wind was insane. You can’t even think it’s real.”

Seana and Trent are due to get married in Canada on June 25, but there wedding venue has been reduced to smouldering ash. They are still waiting to hear if their home has survived the fire.

They are now staying with a family friend. Seana's father-in-law Sean, who was trapped further north of Fort McMurray, is now en route to Edmonton where he’ll finally be reunited with his family.

Seana paid tribute to volunteers who took it upon themselves to drive up from the city of Edmonton to bring gas in jerrycans and food as emergency aid for the evacuees.

“All the fuel had been used because Fort McMurray was in the middle of everywhere so everyone was trying to fuel up, so all the fuel was gone.”

“It was incredible. The volunteers set up a barbecue to start feeding us. People filled jerrycans of gas to help us and try and get us out.”

“We’ve no updates on whether our house is still there but our family is out and no one has been killed. We can go and buy our clothes again, it’s not a big deal.”

“I’m just thankful that we all got out,” Seana added.

“My mother-in-law is a hero for getting us out of there fast. I grabbed my passport and a clean socks, but herself and my fiancé grabbed the food and everything, they’re heroes basically.”

The family must now wait to find out if their house has survived the fire.

“If our house is still there, we’ll go back up. If not, my father-in-law has a house in Ontario and we’ll go there. We’re going back to Ireland for a year later this year so we might head home early either.”

“We’re meant to get married on June 25th but the place we were meant to get married is now a pile of dust.”

Seana paid tribute to the volunteers in Canda, and her family and friends who have been supporting her and her family during this time.

“The volunteers and fire fighters that helped us out… they have families too. I couldn’t imagine if Trent was up there working as a police officer or something like that, I couldn’t imagine if he was away from me at a time like that, they’re so brave."

"And I'd like to say thank you obviously to all my friends and family at home for the support," she said.

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