Nfld. & Labrador

'It's massive': One N.L. firefighter's experience on the job near Fort McMurray

An 11 person contingent from the province is helping attempt to douse the wildfire that has ravaged through northern Alberta.
An aerial view of the flames roaring north of Fort McMurray on May 18. (Phoenix Heli-Flight)

One of the 11-person team from Newfoundland and Labrador helping to fight the wildfire in northern Alberta says the experience has left a lasting impression.

"The fire is just massive. Once you get up in the air you can see it's for miles and miles every way," Mitchell Hunt, a conservation officer from the Northern Peninsula, told CBC Radio's The Corner Brook Morning Show.

"There's no other word for it. It's massive."

The forest fire, which began sweeping through parts of Fort McMurray more than a month ago, causing a city-wide evacuation on May 3, has now receded from residential areas although it continues to burn out of control.

Hunt is in the midst of a 14 day-straight stint fighting the fire, and said each day is a long one.

"Twelve, 15 hours a day and more, in really hot conditions," he said.

"It's dusty conditions as well. It's so dry here, and there's so much dust on the ground, that we come back in the nighttime and we're pretty dirty from head to toe."

A man looks through rubble in the Timberlea neighbourhood as residents re-enter the fire-ravaged city on June 2. (Codie McLachlan/Canadian Press)

Dousing hotspots

Hunt and his crew are staying a five to seven minute helicopter ride away from the flames, housed in what is usually a camp for oil sands workers.

He said they keep busy dousing hotspots along the fire's 1000-km perimeter.

"We've been working along that edge, along with hundreds of other firefighters," he said, adding there are also bulldozers there, creating firebreaks to try and save unburnt forest.

Two days of rain during Hunt's shift came as a blessed, albeit small, relief, with lots of work still left to do.

"There's nothing easy about it. But we just take our time and drink lots of water, keep on trucking from one hotspot to the other."

Hunt's rotation will be up on June 10, when he and the other workers will travel back to Newfoundland and Labrador.

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show