Local News

Raleigh woman feels helpless watching fires burn in Canadian hometown

Posted May 5, 2016
Updated June 12

— A Raleigh woman says she feels a heaviness and helplessness when she looks at the inferno in the city where she grew up.

Nearly 80,000 people have been forced to leave Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada in effort to escape multiple wildfires that continues to devour entire neighborhoods.

Samantha Matthews has an aunt, uncle, cousins and in-laws living in Fort McMurray. All of them escaped the fires unharmed.

Matthews, now 23, moved from Fort McMurray to Virginia when she was 16-years-old to enroll in college. She said seeing images of the fire is like watching childhood memories go up in smoke.

“I want to be able to take by 7-month-old son to Fort McMurray someday and show him where mommy grew up and went to high school and where all my childhood memories are and I don’t know what we’ll be going back to,” she said.

The fire has scorched about 37 square miles and destroyed 1,600 homes in the region where the livelihood for most people is in the oil industry. More than 1,110 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment, and 22 air tankers were fighting a total of 49 wildfires Thursday afternoon.

As rain poured down in Raleigh Thursday afternoon, Matthews wished it would fall in Alberta, to help control the fires.

"I've just been like, 'Lord, send it to Alberta.' We don't need any more here, but they need it so bad," she said.

Matthews said her aunt and uncle could only drive north as they escaped the fire because the highway going south towards the nearest large city- Edmonton- was gridlocked.

Matthews’ father and stepmother live in Edmonton and have welcomed evacuees into their home.

Matthews said, so far, the neighborhood where she grew up has been spared from the flames. Now, she’s encouraging people in her adopted hometown of Raleigh to make donations to the Canadian Red Cross. She is also calling on people to pray for the first responders who have the task of battling the blaze.

"My friends, my family, the people i grew up with; they're just losing everything," Matthews said. "I love where I'm from but I wish that anything else was the top of conversation because I just don't want this to be happening. It's just so hard to see."


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