By Tiffany Chan

BEVERLY (CBS) -– The volunteers from the Massachusetts Task Force 1 returned from their week-long mission to Oregon where wildfires have burned through more than one million acres of land. The 25-member search and rescue crew, based out of Beverly, was sent in to survey the damage and to search for the missing.

They are no strangers to devastation. Many of them are firefighters or first responders, but after returning from the Pacific Northwest, two of them called it a life-changing experience.

“I’ve seen some things, but nothing like we saw seen out there,” said John Forristall.

Forristall, a Boston firefighter, said it was an eye-opening week in Oregon witnessing the damage up close. “It was just acres that were gone. Just like dust and tree trunks that were still smoldering,” he said.

The fires have burned through more than one million acres, leveling homes and torching cars as people rushed to escape with just the clothes on their backs.

“I always wondered why people didn’t get out or anything like that, but the fire moved so quickly on these people,” said volunteer Bobby Better. “I can see how they were surprised. They didn’t have a whole lot of time to get out.”

Helping is nothing new for Better, a 40-year veteran with the Chelsea Fire Department. But he said to see thousands of people lose everything was moving.

“What I saw there, it doesn’t compare,” said Better. “We were glad to be out there and help them out.”

Forristall agreed, telling WBZ-TV, “The biggest thing for me was it was really nice to see the evacuees and they’re really grateful for what we could do to help.”

And the crew is equally as grateful for the experience. “What we do is so rewarding and it’s why we do it,” said Better.

Tiffany Chan

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