Boom! After three quick days off, the boys and I were back at it again. I suspected that my crew would be returning to the Peace River area but no matter where we go we are excited for the export. Driving up, we heard a lot on the radio about the wildfires in High Level, Alberta and La Ronge, Saskatchewan to name a few – the high need for trained wildland firefighters sure pumps us up for every shift! So far this year, Alberta has had over 1,400 wildfires. That’s almost more than we had all of last year and it’s only July. Don’t worry; we firefighters have put an ‘E’, extinguishment, on over 1,300 of them.
Our first day, we got to Peace River and were briefed. Then we headed out to where we would be day based. The day was long and hot, but around 19:15, we got dispatched, and we fought our first wildfire on day one of the shift. It was a lightning strike which started a small wildfire, but none the less still a wildfire. Just the rush after finding the smoke was exhilarating enough for me. Well, we landed and hooked up the bucket to the helicopter. The aerial attack put a big dent in the wildfire. After the helicopter dropped a few more buckets, we hunted down all the hot spots and dug them up. At 21:00 we put an ‘E’ on the wildfire.
Lightning has sparked at least 600 wildfires so far this year and it’s part of our training as leaders to recognize the signs. We search for the smoke and then hunt down the tree that has been spiraled by the lightning strike. Usually one tree has been struck and there’s some ground fire, but sometimes it’s single trees that are torching all at once. Lightning wildfires also tend to burn out in a circle from the struck tree. It’s neat to see.
It also helps that we have an awesome lightning detection system in Alberta. Here’s an example of the amount of lightning we can get in a few hours. The area duty officer tracks the lightning and then sends us wildland firefighters on patrols to hunt them down. Our wildfire lookout observers also call lightning in when it starts a smoke, which is awesome having eyes on the ground.
As the shift went on, we fought more and more wildfires. We even had a mutual aid call, where we went in to help a local municipality outside of our jurisdiction. This was awesome, because my crew knew what to expect when working with other agencies thanks to our work earlier this year in our home area – like with the Cochrane Fire Department. The Calgary area does a lot of cross training with local fire departments, and other agencies. All that cross training prepared us to work with MD of Northern Sunrise County. The wildfire was along a farmer’s field. We were able to contain and extinguish it while working with the local municipal firefighters.
The next few days were quiet, we kept hearing other firefighting crews being dispatched, but the area we were watching over had no smoke calls. We kept thinking it was only a matter of time before we got a call and sure enough we did!
We piled into the helicopter with its bucket and our pumps and headed to a wildfire about five kilometres north of the Peace River border in the High Level area. The best part of this dispatch was that I got to see an old friend. That happens a lot on wildfires. Familiar faces pop up more and more every year! After about two hours of grueling work, we got ahead of the wildfire and made really good progress.
We were reaching the heat of the day and the intensity picked up again. The trees started torching. This is when the fire shoots up the whole tree. Once torching starts, the wildfire can start spreading from treetop to treetop and this particular wildfire almost started to run on us. The good ole pump and hose technique held its ground and we were able to prevent it from spreading and contained it. Once the wildfire was contained we were released back to the Peace River area. Thank you High Level for the wildfire experience!
Well boys and girls, unfortunately we have to time out. After a shift, we all need a few days off to recharge our batteries. This allows us to come back to the job refreshed. After some well-deserved days off we’ll be back to it again. I would personally like to thank everyone out there fighting the wildfires across Canada. Keep it up everyone, great job. Stay tuned, for my next blog, taking it into the personal side of things. Anyway it’s your boy Troy.
Now I’m off to my next adventure!