Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – Boots to the Ground

Natalie_EWF-015-05-3565Edson unit crew; first full shift as a crew under the belt. A grueling 24 day shift with three wildfire events added to the crew’s dossier. After fighting the wildfire near Lodgepole from out of control to being held, or contained, my crew was dispatched north to the next wildfire event: an out-of-control wildfire 44 kilometres northwest of Edson. This out of control fire exploded from 50 to 400+ hectares in less than 24 hours, requiring the efforts of all available firefighters, aircraft and equipment in the area. Normally, firefighting crews work 15-18 day deployments and only under the most exceptional circumstances are these shifts extended. With the wildfire hazard in the extreme level, the decision was made to keep the Edson unit crew on the fireline for an additional six days.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0468.We didn’t hesitate at the chance to keep fighting wildfire, so after a brief stopover to resupply our gear, we got back to work on the fireline by mid-morning of our first day. We were given the task of containing the western flank of the fire. Following along the heavy equipment containment line, each sub-crew worked a different section of the fireline with pump and hose – our specialty. The crew had the western portion of the fire contained in less than three days and after a few more days of gridding and patrolling the fireline, it was time for some well-deserved down time.

There is no time for slacking, Northern Alberta is aflame and after four days of rest, the Edson unit crew was off again – this time to the Lac La Biche area to assist with containing the Burnt Lake wildfire. Upon arrival, 80 per cent of the fire had been contained. With impending weather changes, firefighters would have to work fast to ensure that the wildfire would not escape to threaten nearby communities. My crew was sent to one of the most active parts of the fire ready to work and started laying out hose to get as much water out as possible. After only five days we had laid out as much as 215 lengths of hose – 6450 metres of hose!!! We hiked to hot areas of the wildfire pulling hose, not the easiest task when you’re trekking through a dense wet muskeg forest. Those 215 lengths of hose were laid out, rolled up and deployed again and again.

Pictures below show crew members moving throughout hot sections of the fire covering long distances.

It has been a privilege to work alongside fire crew members from Ontario as well as several crews from British Columbia. It is very inspiring to see the hard work and dedication put in by crews from other provinces. Hopefully we can return the favour if ever the need arises.

IMG_2028The Burnt Lake wildfire is currently burning within the Cold lake weapons range to the northwest of the town of Cold Lake. Security procedures for entering this federal facility are strict, but it’s worth it in the end to be able to assist with the largest wildfire in the province, which as of June 9 has been contained by firefighters.

With a heavy heart, my crew provided their condolences to the friends and family of William Alexander Garvie Hilts, whose tragic fatal crash has struck a chord with all Alberta wildfire staff. Incidents such as these really make us appreciate everyone we work with on a daily basis and how we are all trying hard to make sure that each and every one of us gets home safely at the end of the day.

Wildfires continue to break out and grow throughout the province of Alberta. As we persist with our efforts on the Burnt Lake wildfire, the crew recognizes the efforts of all other wildfire fighting crews throughout the country. All signs point to this being a very long and busy season so keep safe out there, stay well hydrated, and try to get a good night’s sleep.

Until next time – I will be working the fireline!

-Natalie

Check out Natalie’s YouTube video!

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