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Hard-working fire crews, rain help keep Fort McMurray wildfire from growing



Every day since a wildfire began threatening Fort McMurray, Alberta, exhausted firefighters have been stepping out of helicopters after enduring one of the toughest shifts around.


"Yes," confirmed Gavin Hojka, incident commander in charge of 172 wildland firefighters, when asked if the labor was hard. "Very."


With no road access to the fire's front lines, the flames did not spread on Thursday, thanks to the cool, damp weather and the relentless efforts of the fire crews. Each morning, teams of eight to twenty firefighters are dropped off by helicopter. They trek to the fire carrying heavy equipment, including pumps, chainsaws, shovels, axes, and thousands of feet of hose.


"They'll be bringing a dozen boxes of hose for the day," Hojka explained. Each box weighs about 27 kilograms, and the pumps, weighing about 30 kilograms, are carried to the nearest water source.


These firefighters work 12 to 14 hours a day, using water and hand tools to fight the flames, with only a bagged lunch for sustenance. After their grueling shift, a helicopter picks them up for a brief rest before they head back out.


"We do everything we can to bring them home at night," said Hojka, emphasizing the importance of safety.


Despite their efforts, the fire remains out of control, and 6,600 residents of Fort McMurray are still displaced. Neighbourhoods like Beacon Hill and Grayling Terrace are deserted, with only emergency workers and birds in sight. Crews in Grayling Terrace have set up sprinklers to protect homes, while Beacon Hill has seen fire retardant sprayed on nearby trees.


The wildfire remains about 200 square kilometers in size, just under six kilometers from the city's southern edge. Although the weather has been favorable, evacuees are not expected to return until after the long weekend. Schools and the court system are temporarily closed.


Despite the chaos, Fort McMurray is slowly returning to normal. Grocery stores are open and well-stocked, and restaurants, which closed on Tuesday, have reopened.


Other wildfires across Western Canada have also forced residents from their homes. In northern British Columbia, a fire near Fort Nelson remains large but is moving away from the town, and in Manitoba, 675 people have been evacuated from around Cranberry Portage. Cooler temperatures and higher humidity are expected to aid firefighters in the coming days.


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