“Every single day is different”: meet the firefighters fighting this summer’s wildfires

Our helicopters and airtankers help get wildfires under control – but it’s the firefighting crews on the ground who actually put them out.

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Firefighters dig up all hot areas until they are cool to the touch.

Firefighters build containment lines to stop the spread of wildfire and put out the wildfire. But it’s important to remember that putting out a wildfire doesn’t just require extinguishing what you can see.

Wildfires can burn underground and pop up again when the weather becomes hot and dry. To find these underground fires, crews use infrared scan maps of the wildfire area. Each area needs to be dug up and the fire put out until the ground is cool to the touch – this is called ‘cold trailing’.

If you think this sounds like an awful lot of work, you’re right. So why do our firefighters do what they do? Watch this clip and hear their reasons firsthand:

There are four different types of ground crews in Alberta: Rappel, Helitack, Firetack, and Unit Crew.

Rappel crews are firefighters who are specially trained to rappel out of a helicopter. This comes in handy when there is no place close for a helicopter to land or when a wildfire is on a slope or in a tough-to-reach area.

Helitack (helicopter) crews are also first response firefighters. They are first on the scene to fight the wildfire. They are similar to rappel crews and are deployed by helicopter or by ground along with airtankers.

Unit crews are then brought in to do the heavy lifting on the ground. They can still access a wildfire with tricky access from a helicopter via hover-exits, but with 20 firefighters on the crew, they can cover a lot of ground quickly. Unit crew firefighters can also fight fire with fire by lighting fires around a wildfire to remove trees and grass to stop the spread.

Firetack crews also do the heavy lifting on the ground. Like the unit crews, they help contain the fire, put out small fires that burn in the ground called hotspots, and make sure the wildfire is extinguished. These firefighters are often used to contain the large escaped wildfires that require extended long-term work over many days (14-18 days).

Image of the The infrared hot spot map for the Red Deer Creek wildfire.

The infrared hot spot map for the Red Deer Creek wildfire.

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4 thoughts on ““Every single day is different”: meet the firefighters fighting this summer’s wildfires

  1. Pingback: Alberta Wildland Firefighting Adventures – A rappel firefighter’s challenge | Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

  2. Pingback: Alberta Wildland Firefighting Adventures – On the ground at the Lodgepole wildfire | Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

  3. Pingback: Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – Set the Bar High | Alberta Environment and Parks

  4. Pingback: Calgary Is Awesome | Wild Jobs Part Three: Wildland Firefighter

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