Fort McMurray firefighters save homes of others, but lose their own
'He moved to his neighbour's house and continued to fight that fire'
A week after their city burned, tales of selfless sacrifice are beginning to emerge from Fort McMurray, stories of firefighters who lost their homes and fought on to save those of their neighbours.
"We've had several members lose their homes," said Nick Waddington, president of the local firefighters union. "We had one member watch his house burn at the end of his driveway, and then go and put in an 18-hour shift."
Following a tour of devastated neighbourhoods on Monday, fire chief Darby Allen spoke about a firefighter who showed "heroism" after he and his crew failed to save his own home from the flames.
"He didn't drop his nozzle," Allen said. "He moved to his neighbour's house and continued to fight that fire. And he fought that fire for a further 22 hours before he just couldn't stand anymore."
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More than 160 fire crews have been been fighting tirelessly to save the city since the fire erupted last Tuesday, when more than 80,000 residents were forced to flee for their lives.
We've been through the most dangerous experience any one of us could ever imagine, and no firefighters have died.- Nick Waddington, firefighter
Though hundreds of homes were lost, fire crews that battled the blaze for countless hours under hellish conditions saw their efforts pay off; officials estimate they managed to save 85 to 90 per cent of the city.
Only now are some of those members being pulled back from the front lines, and finally being sent home to reunite with their families, for the first time since the evacuation orders came down.
"It was such a monumental task at hand," Waddington said. "Of course, everybody was exhausted but we were solely focused on putting this fire out," said Waddington. "This has been a tremendous experience which has brought us all so close together."
Waddington said industry workers are among the unsung heroes of wildfire. He said the fight to save the city would have been futile without them.
When the city was a ghost town, made virtually unreachable by the surrounding flames, the oilsands mines provided much needed manpower and equipment.
"We had an amazing response from our industrial partners," Waddington said during a Tuesday morning interview on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "This city would have burnt to the ground if our industrial partners weren't there.
"They were the guys that were there from Day 1, they were the only resources we could get. They are the Fort McMurray fire department as much as we are."
Despite the devastating losses and sleepless nights, Waddington said morale remains strong.
"There's still a lot of work to do, but we've been through the most dangerous experience any one of us could ever imagine, and no firefighters have died.
"We feel really good about that, and the hope that the citizens of Fort McMurray are giving us.
"We're ready to rebuild."
With files from The Canadian Press