Anyone who lives in Alberta knows that the last two months have really been heating up. With soaring temperatures and little moisture, wildland firefighting crews have been busy.
At the beginning of May, our seasonal firefighting crews were selected and the nine rappel crews were shipped off to one of the three respective districts in Edson, Whitecourt, and Lac La Biche with three crews occupying each district. Immediately after, Rap Six – my crew based in Whitecourt – was given orders to pack up and head for the Southern Rockies, destination Livingstone Gap.
We arrived at “The Gap” a few days later with big smiles and hopes for what the new fire season would bring. During our stay we were assigned small three person cabins with wood burning stoves, kerosene lanterns, no electricity, and – not to be forgotten – no cell service. It was liberating. During our stay at “The Gap,” we put out one wildfire along a popular hiking trail near Table Mountain and completed various training exercises. The export was short lived. One week later we were sent back to Whitecourt because of the increasing wildfire hazard in central and northern Alberta.
Once back in Whitecourt, we were placed on what is called man-up out of the Swan Hills Fire Base as an initial attack resource. Man-up is when firefighters are positioned strategically throughout the area to respond quickly to new wildfires. Within the first few days back we fought three wildfires in the area, with the largest being 12 hectares in size. We headed into days off at the end of our 15 day shift with the intention of being called back early due to extreme wildfire hazard across Alberta. Three days in, we got the call – I packed my gear and made the four-and-a-half hour drive from Calgary to Whitecourt for a 10 a.m. start the following morning.
This shift we were based out of the Fox Creek Fire Base. This is the first year I have been based out of Whitecourt and it has already left a lasting impression. The firefighting crews and support staff are remarkably friendly, fun and welcoming. One night after finishing up the work day, our crew was invited out to play in the weekly slow-pitch game, which included all of the firefighting crews based out of Fox Creek. We had an incredible time and it was a great opportunity to meet everyone. I am definitely looking forward to the next game.
One week after our callback we received a call from the Whitecourt Fire Centre instructing us to pack our bags again and head east to Lac la Biche. Just as Natalie said, “Knowing little but expecting to be ready for everything.” We were told that we would be helping out with the 3,000 hectare Pony Creek fire just north of Conklin. As we were nearing Conklin we could see a large column of smoke rising behind the hamlet. The sky was hazy and smelt of smoke. We knew we were in for not only a good wildfire, but a challenging one too.
– Stay tuned for the stories and adventures from the Pony Creek fire in my upcoming blog. –
– Until next time! – Jamie