Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – One Busy Summer!

Erica & Glen waiting for helicopter pick up after a long day on the fireline!

Ryan and Devon waiting for a ride too!

Ryan and Devon waiting for a ride too!

As I write this blog entry from the truck en route to the High Level wildfire management area, I am realizing it is August…wow where did this summer go! The last month has been a busy one for the Edson Unit Crew. Last shift was spent working three wildfires in the Edson wildfire management area (EWMA) then working the end of our shift on a wildfire in the Grande Prairie wildfire management area. A total of four wildfires! It was a pretty exciting shift and we got to do a wide range of wildland firefighting work.

Our first two wildfires in our home area of Edson were approximately 150 hectares in size. Terrain was challenging at times and it didn’t help that we had to carry and shuffle gear through the rolling hills of the EWMA! Continue reading

Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – “Golden Wildfire”

IMG_2421Occasionally a wildland firefighter works a wildfire that is unlike any other. Many wildfires are unforgettable for many different reasons to each firefighter, but there is always one that stands out among the rest. I call that the “Golden Wildfire.” Usually these wildfires are so big and powerful that they are nearly impossible to contain. Within this last month I was fortunate enough to experience my “Golden Wildfire.”

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Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – It’s a bird, it’s a plane…wait…it’s your boy Troy!

hooking up the bucket 2Boom! 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.

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Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – Set the Bar High

group shot

As many as you know, this wildfire season has been very, very busy. There have been more than 1,300 wildfires in Alberta alone since April 1, but firefighters have put out over 1,200 of them. Everyone across the province has been working extremely hard – from the wildfire crews and aircraft working in the field to the many people behind the scenes: radio operators, warehouse staff, logistics and the lookout towers, just to name a few. It couldn’t be done without everyone’s dedicated efforts! I’m very proud to be a part of the Alberta Wildfire Management Team and the amount of work we have accomplished to date.

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Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – From the fireline: At the Pony Creek wildfire

It’s 4:45 am. I roll over and shut off the sound of marimba playing from my iPhone. I struggle to open my eyes while contemplating taking another five minutes of sleep. I open and close my eyes again; a slight stinging sensation covers my eyelids as I press them together. My mind kicks into gear and pulls my body into an upright position. I force myself to dress and prepare for another day on the fireline.

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Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – Ashes to Ashes

3F6A0528-2The start of a new shift is like a blank page of an unwritten story. This shift, my first thought was a long weekend of patrols – and that is how it started – but there was so much more in store for me and my crew.

We started patrolling the Maclean Creek area, hunting down abandoned campfires, found a few, called them in and “soak-it, stir-it, and soak-it again”, you know, the standard protocol when putting fires out. After three days of hunting down campfires and helping out lost campers, it was time move on from the long weekend. Continue reading

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.

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Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – A busy spring

Training 2Anyone 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.

My April was spent re-certifying my rappel skills, helping out with member training and fitness with Troy in Hinton, and fighting five spring wildfires out of Lac la Biche alongside my early crew.

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Alberta Wildland Firefighting Adventures – So you wanna be a wildland firefighter, huh?

3F6A0528-2A new fire season always means new faces – eager new firefighters travelling to Hinton to learn all about wildfire. Well of course, these newbies need to be trained. Well, you could say the instructors at the Hinton Training Centre have their hands full and need a few old hands from around the province to mentor these newbies, set up labs, help with morning fitness and anything else that needs to be done – that’s where my 2015 fire season started.

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Alberta Wildland Firefighting Adventures – On the ground at the Lodgepole wildfire

Natalie_EWF-015-05-2710Day 1 –Tuesday, May 12

The morning started off normally with a crew run. We try to get in a solid hour fitness with the whole 20 pack every day. That afternoon we got dispatched to a 1.5 hectare fire near Wolf Creek in Edson that was burning in grass and some timber.

First on the scene was a rappel crew, who then turned it over to us – we were able to have that wildfire under control by the late evening. Sitting down for dinner at roughly 10 p.m., we were told that we were headed out tomorrow to the wildfire 8 kilometres north of Lodgepole, which was roughly 200 hectares at the time. Our orders were to have our bags packed for 15 days and to meet at the truck at 5:50 a.m.

Knowing little but expecting to be ready for anything – that’s the name of the game in fire.

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