'It looked like Hiroshima:' Sask. man reflects on anniversary of Fort McMurray fires

Fort McMurray remembers: One year since wildfire evacuation

It's been an emotional week for Estevan, Sask., native Nolan Haukeness as he recalls that this time last year, he was running for his life.

Haukeness and his wife, Jenine, were living in Fort McMurray when wildfires ripped through the town in early May, destroying hundreds of buildings and displacing thousands more residents.

The couple and their new baby daughter— whom Jenine was pregnant with at the time of their escape—have since returned to the city and are rebuilding their lives.

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"She know nothing about what we went through to get her here, thankfully," Haukeness said of his daughter to CBC Radio's The Morning Edition on Wednesday.

'Terrifying' escape

It was a Tuesday around 1:45 p.m., when Haukeness recalls noticing that the smoke in the air was worse compared to the previous days and decided to leave work at the hospital early.

"In the five minutes it took me to get my car and get up to the corner intersection they had told us there was a mandatory evacuation," he said.

Once at home, Haukeness and his pregnant wife packed the car with some belongings and left their neighbourhood, which was one of the hardest hit by the fire.

He said the experience was "terrifying," as the road leading outside the community was gridlocked.

"Traffic just wasn't moving and flames were getting closer and closer and we could actually see the flames coming closer and closer," Haukeness recalled.

That's when an RCMP officer approach the window and told them to run.

"There was a house on fire behind us, and a house on fire in front of us. If we didn't get and run, then we wouldn't have been able to move."

Carrying what belongings they could on their backs and ditching the car, Haukeness and his wife ran, and were later picked up by a neighbour who drove them to safety just north of town.

One year later

The couple eventually made it to Edmonton, and then spent time visiting with Haukeness's family in Estevan and his wife's side in Newfoundland.

They moved back to Fort McMurray at the end of last June. He said the family is OK, but visiting the site of their former home was strange.

"It was like just a bomb just went off in our neighbourhood — our house was gone, our neighbour's house was gone," Haukeness said.

"It looked like Hiroshima. Where a neighbourhood once stood, it was not there anymore."

They are planning to rebuilding their house and this week, found out a building permit had been approved.

"That's a big step for us, both emotionally and physically."

Haukeness said at times, he finds himself feeling angry and frustrated about what happened, other times he wants to withdraw.

Ultimately, he's been trying to stay strong for his wife and new daughter, whom he calls a "welcome distraction" to the anniversary of the fire.

"I will never be unprepared for a disaster again, I will tell you that," Haukeness said.