New book offers first-hand account of how firefighters battled Fort McMurray fire
Emily English , Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, May 1, 2017 9:42AM EDT
A new book is chronicling the battle Fort McMurray firefighters faced against the wildfire that forced the largest evacuation in Alberta’s history.
Inside the Inferno: A Firefighter’s Story of the Brotherhood that Saved Fort McMurray is being published this May, one year after the event. Written by Damian Asher with Omar Mouallem, the book is a first-person account of Asher’s story. Asher is a captain of the city’s fire department and a life-long Fort McMurray resident.
Step-by-step, neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood, Asher takes readers through the firefighters’ battle to save the city.
It began as a remote forest fire, but then approached the city itself, forcing the nearly 90,00 residents of Fort McMurray to flee.
Fifteen per cent of buildings in Fort McMurray were lost, but without the efforts of the fire crews, that number could have been much higher.
One year later, Your Morning co-host Anne-Marie Mediwake travelled to Fort McMurray to meet with Asher and get a tour of the neighbourhoods he worked in during the height of the battle.
Their tour begins in Beacon Hill, the first neighbourhood Asher was at when the fire hit the city.
“As the fire is starting to crown out of the trees, I put the monitor up on the truck and I’m spraying into the trees,” recalls Asher. “As that’s on the go, there’s residents coming out of the cul-de-sac. There’s vehicles coming down the road of everyone still evacuating out of Beacon Hill.”
The fire hit many neighbourhoods at once, creating a challenge for crews to get ahead of it. Tough decisions had to be made in the moment. There were not enough resources for crews to be in all areas at once.
“The call comes in that Beacon Hill is clear. All the residents are gone out of Beacon Hill. There’s other areas of the city being hit and we need to move,” Asher recalls of that day. “People were out. Because the people were out, that’s the most important thing. There was another area about to be hit.”
While all this was happening, fire crews in neighbourhoods all over Fort McMurray were also facing their own battles.
“When we left that’s when we realized what else was happening on the outside of the community,” says Asher. “It jumped the Athabasca and it was below Thickwood, Wood Buffalo, and all that down at the golf course. So there’s crews up there battling at the same time we were battling here.”
Meanwhile, Fort McMurray residents were in an hours-long traffic jam on the highway trying to get out of the city.
“Lots of events happening all at once,” says Asher.
Firefighters barely slept for three days and nights as they worked to gain control of the fire and save as much of Fort McMurray as possible. For weeks after, crews continued to work during the days and monitor during the nights.
While Asher was fighting the fire in other neighbourhoods, flames encroached on Saprae Creek, the neighbourhood where his own family home is located. His house was lost, along with all his possessions and the possessions of his wife and two children.
Asher is now working to rebuild that home.
He is also working to promote his book and make sure the stories of firefighters are heard.
“I wanted the stories, the sacrifices, of what some of our members had to make to get out there. It doesn’t matter what story you tell, how you tell that story, the story of fighting the fire is going to be there,” says Asher.
Watch the above video for more details on Damian Asher’s experience fighting the fire.
Inside the Inferno: A Firefighter’s Story of the Brotherhood that Saved Fort McMurray, by Damian Asher with Omar Mouallem, is on sale May 2, 2017