GREGOIRE LAKE, Alberta (Reuters) - An indoor security camera gave the world a haunting five-minute glimpse of one of the worst wildfires in Canadian history as it roared through a living room in Fort McMurray and the homeowner watched it burn on his mobile phone.
The video from a fixed camera in James O‘Reilly’s home began with a seemingly serene shot of red walls, a brown couch and a glowing fish tank before the view turned to heavy smoke, ash and flames outside the window, the slow breaking of glass and smoke filling the room.
Traffic and weather cameras and security webcams have allowed those who fled to remotely see if their homes have been lost to the fire that has consumed at least 1,600 buildings and forced 88,000 to evacuate the city.
O‘Reilly, 51, and his wife pulled out on Tuesday, driving through flames and ash to put distance between themselves and the inferno. He pulled over 20 minutes outside Fort McMurray, his phone buzzing with an alarm from his in-home security system. He watched as the house was consumed by flames, live on the screen in his hand.
“My wife couldn’t watch it, but at that point I thought we were dead coming through the flames like we did,” said O‘Reilly. “I was euphoric, so it didn’t bother me. I knew the house was gone already, I knew we were alive, and I was so happy we were alive, the rest was all -- who cares, right?”
O‘Reilly said he had installed the camera, a home security system known as a Canary, only a month before more because he is a technology geek than out of security concerns.
Entire neighborhoods have been burned to the ground in Fort McMurray. No one has died in the fires, but two people died in a car crash during the evacuation.
O‘Reilly said he and his wife regretted leaving behind their two clownfish, which were so tame they would eat from his wife’s hand.
Audio accompanying O‘Reilly’s video recorded the crackling wildfire, breaking glass, a beeping smoke detector and an automated voice warning that there was “smoke in the hallway” before the recording cut out.
Canary spokesman John Carter said it was not the first time the company’s cameras, which feed live video and audio to the smartphones of homeowners, had captured destruction.
“The more these kinds of devices get out there, the more you see people capturing some pretty surprising things, of all nature, in their homes,” Carter said.
Leslie Booker was luckier than the O‘Reillys. By looking at an online security camera video, the child development worker saw that her home was still standing. An air monitoring camera in another neighborhood showed that dozens of other homes had also made it through.
Reporting by Liz Hampton; Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins in Toronto; Editing by Toni Reinhold