05/20/2011 08:29 am ET Updated Jul 20, 2011

Harper Tours Slave Lake Carnage

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach will be in Slave Lake, Alta., on Friday to witness the devastation caused by wildfires earlier this week.

The two men are due to land at the airport at 11:30 a.m. MT and take a tour of the town that is expected to last two hours.

They will see the results of one of the worst disasters in modern Canadian history. Wildfires destroyed 433 properties in Slave Lake and the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River.

Stelmach will speak to reporters after the prime minister departs. Harper has no scheduled media availabilities and is not expected to be visiting evacuees in Athabasca or other communities.

Shifting winds turned the wildfires on the community of 7,000 people, meaning residents had little warning to get out of their homes.

Waiting for word

Many people are now waiting in emergency shelters for word on when they can return to their town, but that could still be weeks away.

The only activity currently in the community is crews working to restore services and haul away wrecked cars and other debris with track excavators.

Firefighter Len MacCharles said the area was hit by what he would characterize as a firestorm.

"The nature of which is unprecedented. The speed it was moving, the heat it was generating, the devastation, is second to none."

He said the fire threat was so grave at one point that firefighters actually demolished some homes that weren't on fire in order to create a buffer zone.

"Because [firefighters] were making a choice to create a fire break, which unfortunately meant the demolition of some homes, they were able to save many more," MacCharles said. "Tough decisions, but I commend them for the choices they made."