Damian Asher was born and raised in Fort McMurray and has been a resident for 40 years now.
He’s spent the last 16 years working with the Fort McMurray Fire Department and is now a Fire Captain.
He helped battle the 2016 wildfire while his wife and two children and their pets evacuated their home in Saprea Creek which they ended up losing.
Asher was previously a contractor in Fort McMurray and is now in the process of framing his home as his family rebuilds.
In November he was approached by Simon & Schuster Canada to write a story on the events of what took place from an aspect of the members on the floor, what the actual firefighters were doing the entire time during the 2016 wildfires and evacuation.
Asher was able to write a book that if he had to read, this is what he would want it to contain.
“When you start to read the stories within the book of the relations of how guys had to fight fire and say goodbye to their families and not being able to help them you’ll get a really good sense of what the book is about,” said Asher.
Without giving too much away of what will be in the book, Asher recalled his role in fighting the fire.
“Just about everybody when they hit a certain section that relates to how their life is like already they have all said that they have pretty much come to tears,” said Asher.
Him and his crew started day one in Beacon Hill, from there they went to Wood Buffalo, Signal Road, Ermine Crescent, down around Silin Forest Drive, up into Walnut Crescent, Tower Road and the Trailer Park all in the first night.
“It hit on all sides of the city all at once, we needed to be everywhere at once,” said Asher.
The second night they did hot spots around town, Grayling Terrace, more of Beacon Hill and Waterways going into Gregiore, the landfill, Prairie Creek, out to the airport and out to Stone Creek.
On the third day it was more of the same, Tower Road and hot spots.
On the Friday morning of May 6th they finished around 3:00 a.m. and he and his crew went down for the sleep for the first time.
“The majority of firefighters fight 5-6 structure fires a year, we went 50 something hours non-stop fighting fire,” said Asher, “If a fire normally lasts 2-3 hours and you fight 5-6 a year, that’s 12-18 hours. We did 50 hours nonstop.”
After the wall of fire had passed through Asher recalled the weeks and weeks of digging up stumps and hot spots, flipping over logs, turning over debris, spraying millions of gallons of water and making sure everything was cold to the touch and not smoking anymore. That carried on for a good month.
Asher was also present for the house explosion in Dickensield, the row house fires of the 400-block, the apartment fires downtown and in Timberlea.
Besides from mitigating the wildfire the firefighters still had to do their daily job.
A major aspect from this time that Asher said will be included in the book is how the firefighters had to work together and look after each other, make sure guys were fed, had snacks and getting a little bit of rest.
What really helped Asher was getting a story from how life moves on as opposed to just what his co-worker did the previous night.
He noted that check-ups and conversations often circulated around “how’s your mom, how’s your dad, have you talked to your family, how are your children, have they gotten out of this?”
Aside from the physical nature of what they had to do to survive Asher noted that the brotherhood was really created after they tested themselves to the limits and saw just how far everyone is going to go when it’s needed and truly look out for another.
About the book
“It’s a bit on my memoirs but it’s also stories from a bunch of other individuals,” said Asher, “It’s a pretty good story it covers the first four days.
Asher and other firefighters worked with writer Omar Mouallem who helped compile the memoirs together.
“There’s lots of sides to every story, nobody’s really heard ours from the floor as to what we were doing and being faced with,” said Asher.
The story represents some of the sacrifices they had to make, saying goodbye to their families and not being able to help them evacuate and the firefighters who lost their own houses.
“I think for the most part there is about 6 main characters in the book but they cross path with 20-30 more characters,” said Asher.
Characters in the book include other firefighters who were on Ashers shift, other firefighters who lost their homes, paramedic firefighters and other firefighters who are residents of the community.
“As we wrote it we tried to get key individuals that had specific stories that readers could relate to there is stories of mothers, fathers, spouses, brothers, sisters, friends,” said Asher, “We’re firefighters, we are who we are but at the end of the day we’re citizens of the city and we’re no different than you guys, we all have family, friends and neighbours that we had to say goodbye to and everyone will be able to relate to those stories.”
There are 16 coloured photos from the fire within the book as well as a couple of images of Asher growing up in Fort McMurray in the book as well.
Asher is excited about the project and looks forward to the response.
“We want to represent the public, citizens of Fort McMurray and the fort McMurray firefighters the best we can so it’s been a long process of editing and reworking stories to making sure everything is the best it can be,” said Asher.
Inside the Inferno: A Firefighter’s Story of the Brotherhood that Saved Fort McMurray is now available in book stores.
Some of the proceeds of the book will go towards a trust fund for education funding for children of firefighters that want to move into emergency services.
The Fort McMurray Firefighters Charity Association will be issued a number of books to sell and all of those proceeds will go towards those charities.
A portion of the proceeds will also go toward the Fort McMurray Honour Guard and a memorial where the names of the fallen Fort McMurray firefighters will be displayed.