Alberta Wildland Firefighting Adventures – Ending Fire Season on a High Note

The Edson Unit Crew just wrapped up our most memorable experience of the fire season where we went down to Idaho to assist with the wildfires burning in the state. It was definitely the highlight! After having our southern neighbours up earlier this summer to help with Alberta’s wildfires it was great to return the favour.

It started off with a three day journey to Idaho, with briefings in Canada and the United States. Day one we received training in Coeur d’Alene where they briefed us on their wildfire procedures, covering everything from the lingo they use to their fire shelters and radios. Everyone was grateful to have us down to help with their wildfires. It felt good to help and the crew was grateful to be there to help. American firefighters face similar challenges that we do in Alberta. With more and more people living in forested areas in the United States, communities and homes are more often at risk. We call these situations wildland urban interface wildfires.

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Two Alberta crews worked on the Avery Complex which included three large wildfires – the Breezy Fire, Pretty Fire and Mable Creek Fire – all located in the Panhandle National Forest. The camp was in a big open field and hosted over 400 people! I felt like I was at a music festival!  Large vendors were set up to serve food, multiple trailers were set up for showers, large bulletin boards shared information about other wildfires and even sports updates as there was no cell service. Firefighters did have access to wifi to let our loved ones know we were all okay.

Breland and Clay from the Texas Engine Crew

Breland and Clay from the Texas Engine Crew

We were working on the Marble Creek Fire for 14 days. The terrain in the Panhandle National Forest was gorgeous. We were surrounded by mountains and the trees were massive! Working in such a beautiful forest was a treat. We met firefighters from all over the United States, an engine crew from Texas, an engine crew from Wisconsin and our Task Force Leader Joel was from Arizona – and this was just in our division! They were all great firefighters and incredibly friendly. Everyone appreciated our help.

One big difference we noticed between Idaho and Alberta was the lack of water. We are lucky in Alberta to have access to so many lakes and streams. In Idaho, the main method of firefighting was building hand lines. They will often dig a two foot hand line around the whole wildfire to help prevent it from spreading. First off, the hand line is cut to about 10 feet wide using chainsaws. Next, a two foot wide break is dug by hand with tools and is dug down to mineral soil. This can be pretty strenuous and tough!

My time in Idaho brought many new faces into my life and reinforced the comradery that is wildland firefighting. I came across a tribute on Instagram to the recent tragedy of the three young wildland firefighters that were caught in the Twisp Washington Wildfire and wanted to share with you all. It perfectly describes what wildland firefighting is all about. Please take a moment to read the tribute and thank a firefighter for their sacrifices.

Natalie_EWF-015-05-2710With my 2015 wildfire season finished up, I look back and I think about the hours spent with my crew this summer. To everyone fighting wildfires this summer from all over Alberta to my new friends in the United States – stay safe out there and keep doing what you love!

Thanks for following and hope to see you next year!

~Natalie

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