For more than a week, incredible pictures and videos of the fire fight in and around Fort McMurray have been circulating in the news and on social media.
But for some, it wasn’t just images on a screen; they’ve been living it every day.
“There’s been days it’s been pretty intense,” Ryan Shipley said. “It’s definitely a different experience being up here.”
Shipley, from Nova Scotia, is part of a Rough Rider crew from across the country that works in the oilpatch year-round.
“The Rough Riders are like a family, we do everything in common,” said Sachil Aklamnu, who is originally from Ghana but now calls Calgary home.
When the fires roared in, that family asked how they could help out. The answer was driving water tankers to follow fire crews on the front lines.
“We don’t think we’re doing a whole lot, but every firefighter I’ve talked to says without these water trucks they’d have no chance,” said Ryan Madden, also from Calgary.
Edmonton firefighter Ryan Polak, who just returned home from battling the blaze, agrees.
“It accelerated quickly,” he said, referring to when the fire made its way into Anzac. “We moved in quickly and we had to move out quickly as flames started to surround the town.”
“It was really intense following the fire trucks around, in and out of the fires,” Shipley said.
“Water bombers were flying over us; they were clipping the tops of trees,” said Madden, echoing his crewmate’s sentiment.
It was an effort that didn’t go unnoticed.
“Every time we turned around they were there,” Polak said. “They followed us in on their own accord. Thank you for being there; without you guys we wouldn’t have been able to do our jobs.”
Polak never caught any of the crew’s names but felt compelled to send them an email, saying without them, much of Anzac would be gone.
The Rough Rider crew disagreed, though, giving all of the credit to those they worked in tandem with on the front lines.
“They’re the heroes, the firefighters are the heroes,” Shipley said. “We’re just there to give a hand.”