Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees Danielle and Desmond Doerksen escaped to Williams Lake Thursday and at this point do not know if they’ve lost their home.
On Tuesday the couple grabbed their three children, packed a few belongings, and fled with their truck and fifth wheel trailer.
By the time they arrived at Grasslands, Alta., Danielle said they realized they wouldn’t be returning to Fort McMurray any time soon.
“We decided we might as well come to Williams Lake. We both grew up here and have family here,” she said.
For now the Doerksens are staying in their fifth wheel, parked in the driveway at Danielle’s parents’ home in Glendale.
On Friday morning they registered their boys Jordan, 8, and Jacob, 6, for school in Williams Lake.
Desmond has worked for Finning in Fort McMurray since 2004.
Soon after they arrived here this week, employees at Finning in Williams Lake decided to help the family out by setting up a donation box in the front office.
By Friday afternoon the box was almost full.
“It’s unbelievable,” Desmond said of the outpouring the family has received. “We are blown away by the support from Williams Lake. We feel like we never left.”
Danielle’s relatives in Winnipeg have also sent them lots of clothes.
Even before the official evacuation alert was issued Tuesday afternoon in Fort McMurray, Desmond said he realized they needed to leave.
“I climbed up on our roof and I could see the fire cresting over the hill,” he recalled. “That was it, I decided we were getting out. I told Danielle to go bring the kids home from school.”
After circling around the city a few times they managed to get onto Highway 63 driving southward, even though traffic was being directed north.
As they drove through the “hell fire,” seeing a gas station and hotel in flames, trees exploding and vehicles everywhere, it was surreal they said.
“The sky was dark like the sun had gone down but it was only 3:30 in the afternoon,” Danielle said.
Feeling fortunate they got out when they did, the Doerksens said it is so still hard to believe that a city the size of Fort McMurray could go up in flames so quickly.
While he is trying to find a place for his family to live in Williams Lake, Desmond said he hopes to return to help rebuild Fort McMurray.