St. Louis Blues winger Scottie Upshall saw images of the wildfire spreading across his hometown of Fort McMurray, Alta., and likened them to a disaster movie.
“A movie that I don’t really want to watch,” he told reporters Wednesday.
“I saw the freeway that I used to drive in from the airport and both sides of the roads were 100-foot flames. I saw a couple of restaurants that I used to eat at and those were gone. You know, I’m thankful for all the supporters there who are doing their thing and everyone who’s still there or trying to get out or looking for places to stay, we hope everyone has a helping hand.
“We’ll be able to support them and do what we can from here and I’m sure we’ll all get together nationally and help them out.”
The 32-year-old Upshall grew up in the Alberta city and played for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey Leauge before moving on to the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers.
He said his nieces were among those evacuated, although his brother and fiancee, who also live in Fort McMurray, were in St. Louis to watch Tuesday’s game — a 6-1 Blues victory that gave them a 2-1 lead over the Dallas Stars in their Western Conference semifinal series.
“I got a lot of texts yesterday (that said) ‘Go out and win the game for the city,’ so that was pretty special,” Upshall said.
The wildfire has torched entire neighbourhoods and forced more than 80,000 to flee the city. The flames roared into the southwest corner of the Fort McMurray on Tuesday afternoon. It engulfed homes in three subdivisions and destroyed vehicles, gas stations and a motel.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is from Edmonton. He interrupted his post-game news conference after Tuesday night’s 6-1 victory by issuing condolences to those affected by the fire. Rookie defenceman Colton Parayko played two seasons in the minors at Fort McMurray.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff is from Warburg, Alta.
“That’s tragic, close to home for me,” Ruff said. “Makes losing the game irrelevant. It’s heartbreaking.”
After Tuesday night’s game, Hitchcock said he and Upshall were both able to make contact with friends and acquaintances in the city. Hitchcock said he probably knows about 100 people in the city.
The Beacon Hill suburb in the south end of Fort McMurray has seen the worst damage with about 80 per cent of homes destroyed.
Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, who grew up Beacon Hill, told Ottawa’s CFRA radio Wednesday morning that he’s been following the wildfire closely and has been in contact with family members in the area, including his sister, brother-in-law and their three young children.
“It was not an enjoyable (phone) conversation, hearing (the children) in the background and their panicked voices and crying,” Phillips told CFRA. “Really, just the unknown. Luckily, they were able to get out of town.”