WANDERING RIVER, Canada: Visibly shaken, Margarita Carnicero recalled fearing for her life Friday as she sped to safety through the massive wildfire engulfing the Canadian town of Fort McMurray.
“We weren’t sure we’d get through because of the thick smoke,” she told Agence France-Presse sitting in her dust-covered SUV alongside her teenage daughter Michelle.
“It was a terrible experience. I was afraid, but I tried not to show it (so as) not to frighten my daughter.”
Their car packed with personal belongings and the family dog cowering on the back seat, the two were part of a police-led convoy through the burning Alberta oil sands town.
They were among the first wave to reach safety in Wandering River, a hamlet about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Fort McMurray, where others like them were filling up their tanks at the local gas station.
Almost 500 made the dangerous journey past the charred remains of cars and buildings, feeling the heat through their car windows from grass fires still burning on roadsides and flare-ups further away.
Carnicero said authorities had wanted to fly people trapped in the oil fields north of Fort McMurray to safety in Edmonton and Calgary as the wildfires closed in.
But many insisted on staying with their vehicles, packed with any possessions they could salvage quickly when the evacuation was ordered earlier in the week.
After spending all day Thursday on a roadside waiting for the highway south to open, Carnicero and her daughter finally headed out of the danger zone at 5:30 am Friday.
She and others described the gut-wrench of seeing their once-bustling city reduced to “dark and smoky” ruins as they drove past.
“With all of the smoke, the trip was hard on the lungs,” said Greg Stengel, who also joined the convoy.