Firefighters searching for possible victims encased in thick ice face a "daunting" task that requires as much skill and finesse as an archeological dig, one expert said as crews continue to comb through the frozen site of a deadly fire in Quebec.

Emergency crews in L'Isle-Verte are using steam to melt the ice while still preserving the bodies they are looking for in the rubble of the Residence du Havre seniors home. Ten people died in Thursday's fire and 22 are listed as missing, police said Saturday.

Fire-ravaged buildings become even more treacherous when coated with heavy ice, said Saskatoon Fire Chief Dan Paulsen, who is not involved with the Quebec operation but has dealt with similar situations on his turf.

"You've got massive instability in the structure simply because of the amount of weight that is there, and if anything is still standing, that's in a collapsible position," he said.

In some cases, Paulsen said, the safety risks are so high that the investigation is called off altogether and what caused the blaze is left unknown.

That isn't an option when there are victims inside, he said.

"It is a daunting task that they're facing because people want to lay their loved ones to rest and I fully understand that," he said.

"I obviously want to extend my deepest sympathies for (the families') loss."

At the same time, the recovery effort must be carried out without compromising firefighters' safety, he said.

Safeguarding the remains must also be a priority, the fire chief said, describing it as painstaking work that calls for a delicate hand as well as an arsenal of equipment.

"I would probably akin that to archeology," he said.

The only way to collect the bodies and potential evidence is to thaw the wreckage, he said.

One possible method involves building a new structure out of scaffolding and insulated sheathing around the rubble and pumping heat inside, he said.

Steam — the approach chosen by the Quebec crews — is another option, Paulsen said.

A device "like a big pressure washer" is used to blast the ice, while another machine sucks up the runoff before it can freeze again, he said.

Back hoes and other excavators can also be employed, along with breaking hammers.

When the structure is too unstable, however, the solution may be to rely on Mother Nature, he said.

"It is not the most desirable option but when you start looking though at putting life risk..." he said.

"Those are difficult decisions that have to be made by those involved."

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  • A crane knocks down a wall after a fatal fire destroyed a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte, Que., Thursday, January 23, 2014.

  • Quebec Premier Pauline Marois visits the site of the fatal fire at a seniors residence, Sunday, January 26, 2014 in L'Isle-Verte, Que.

  • Jean-Andre Michaud holds a photo of his father, Paul-Etienne Michaud, 96, at his home Saturday, January 25, 2014 in L'Isle-Verte, Que. Michaud died in the fire at a seniors residence Thursday, Jan, 22, 2014.

  • Marc-Henri Saindon holds a photo of his mother Marie-Jeanne Gagnon. He says she was killed in the L'Isle-Verte, Que., fire. Gagnon, who was 99 years and seven months old, would have turned 100 on April 30.

  • Firefighters work at the scene of a seniors residence fire on Thursday, January 23, 2014 in L'Isle-Verte, Que. A fire destroyed the residence and police said three people were confirmed dead and 30 are missing.

  • Firefighters work at the scene of a seniors residence fire on Thursday, January 23, 2014 in L'Isle-Verte, Que. A fire destroyed the residence and police said three people were confirmed dead and 30 are missing.

  • Firefighters work at the scene of a seniors residence fire on Thursday, January 23, 2014 in L'Isle-Verte, Que. A fire destroyed the residence and police said three people were confirmed dead and 30 are missing.

  • A police investigator walks through the icy rubble of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • A police investigator, enveloped in steam, signals to colleagues as they search through the icy rubble of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Police investigators remove evidence as they search through the icy rubble of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • An emergency worker walks past a sign that reads "Look out for our residents" as they search through the icy rubble of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Rescue personeel search through the icy rubble of fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • A police investigator walks through the icy rubble of fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Rescue personeel search through icy rubble of fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec.(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Rescue personnel search through the icy rubble of fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • A police investigator signals to colleagues as they search through icy rubble to trying to locate more victims of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • A police investigator slips as they search through icy rubble to trying to locate more victims of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • A firefighter checks for gas leak as rescue personnel search through icy rubble to try to locate more victims of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Rescue personnel search through icy rubble to try to locate more victims of a fire that destroyed a seniors' residence Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Firefighters work at the scene of a senior's residence fire on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec.

  • Firefighters continue to douse the rubble where fire destroyed a a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte, Quebec, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

  • Firefighters continue to douse the rubble where fire destroyed a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte, Que., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 The fire trapped terrified residents, most of them dependent on wheelchairs and walkers.

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>

  • Credit : François Drouin, <a href="http://www.infodimanche.com/">Infodimanche.com</a>