News / Edmonton

Video: Man watches Fort McMurray home burn on security cam

House burns to the ground 20 minutes after occupants left

A screenshot from the security camera James O'Reilly had bought less than a month ago for his Fort McMurray home. (The original 5 minute video has been sped up.)

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A screenshot from the security camera James O'Reilly had bought less than a month ago for his Fort McMurray home. (The original 5 minute video has been sped up.)

When thousands fled the flames in Fort McMurray Tuesday most wondered if they’d ever see their homes again.

James O’Reilly didn’t have to wonder—he watched his home of almost 20 years burn to the ground on his iPhone.

The video — shot by an indoor security camera about 20 minutes after O’Reilly and his wife had barely enough time to grab some clothing and go — starts with a clear view of their living room, front window and two clown fish in a tank.

The orginial five-minute video has been sped up below.

At the beginning the only thing out of the ordinary is the intense crackling. Then, the south-facing window goes dark. Only minutes after the video begins, the window shatters and plumes of ashy smoke pour into the room.

The smoke eventually blocks out the light, and you’re left again with just sound—popping and breaking, until the video cuts out.

O’Reilly was in his truck, his wife in a vehicle behind, at Gregoire Lake south of town when he watched his home destroyed.

He’d just driven through six packed lanes of traffic, the air full of so many embers it looked like fire brushing the sides of the camper he was pulling, and he says the adrenaline softened the blow—but now, its starting to settle in.  

“We’ve ben talking for two days about all the things we left behind,” he said. “We left pretty much all our important papers, some important pictures, we left a glass of Candace’s father who passed away.”

Flames ignite the skies of a traffic-choked road near Fort McMurray on May 4.

Kevin Tuong/Metro

Flames ignite the skies of a traffic-choked road near Fort McMurray on May 4.

He adds he also feels bad about the two clownfish left in the tank, just two of many animals that were left behind.

But for him and his wife the order to evacuate had come swiftly—residents of Abasand, a neighbourhood on the south side, they’d watched other areas of the city get gradual notices that they needed to leave.

Tuesday morning seemed smoky but fine, but he and his wife decided to head home after things got darker that afternoon.

The voluntary order came as he was driving. By the time they arrived home, it was mandatory, leaving them minutes to pack and go.

“I could feel the wind and it wasn’t wind from outside. It was wind from the fire,” he said.

But he says despite the short notice, they’re very thankful for the firefighters and police who braved rapidly progressing flames to help them get out.

“We’re better than most,” he said. “We made it through, and we have our camper, so we have a home on the road.”

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