Firefighters in the Field – Assisting in Other Areas
The Edson unit crew has been off to a busy start this wildfire season. Being on a unit crew, we generally work on larger, sustained-action wildfires, giving us the opportunity to go on export and fight wildfires outside of our home base, the Edson Forest Area. This gives us the ability to go wherever help is needed, which provides a lot of cool opportunities to see other parts of Alberta and abroad.
High temperatures, low humidity, and dry lightning storms led to a large spark (no pun intended) of wildfires across northern Alberta. The Lac La Biche Forest Area was hit particularly hard, which is where our crew was sent. When the request came in, everyone was filled with eager excitement to lend a helping hand. The shift we had was busy to say the least. We worked there for just under two weeks, working long hours every day, all while fighting two out of control wildfires. The two wildfires together were just under 2,000 hectares, which is almost 20 square kilometres!
When wildfires get to sizes like that, they usually require a large amount of resources to contain it. Pending safe conditions to do so, airtankers drop retardant on the forest in front of the head of the wildfire, while helicopters use their buckets for water drops where necessary. Heavy equipment bulldozer groups cut line through the forest to create a break in burnable terrain in an attempt to slow down and contain the wildfire. The wildfire crews act as the group support, laying hose and fighting the perimeter flame on the ground. Our overall success is dependant on everyone working together as a well-functioning and cohesive unit, which is what happened with those wildfires!
Wildfires of that size also require a large amount of hose. Our 20-person crew carries 14,000 feet of hose, which is over 4km long! It’s not uncommon to land on a wildfire and deploy our whole allotment of hose on the first day, and put a request in for more hose for the coming days. Lucky for us, there are water sources all over the province, whether it’s a river, creek, pond, lake, or swampy muskeg hole. If there’s a wildfire burning, there’s a good chance we can find a water source nearby. Laying several kilometres of hose to get the water where it needs to be is something we thrive for; sometimes that’s just the reality of the job. What I always find incredible is how quickly and easily large amounts of work gets done when you have 20 people trying their best to achieve a goal. That’s one of the reasons we take our personal fitness so seriously. On a large out of control wildfire, we can walk up to 20 kilometres in full personal protective equipment; all while trekking gear around where needed.
One of the hardest yet most rewarding aspects of the job is dealing with how busy the wildfire season can become. While most people work all year for a break over the summer, we are busier than ever during those same summer months. This means that when days off come around, everyone has activities planned to fill every minute and make the most of their time away. Furthermore, we all have our phones on us waiting and ready for the chance that the Duty Officer will request us to return back to base early, cutting our break off short. That was just the case with our most recent days off, and although it was nice to head home and relax for a bit, everyone is beyond excited to head out to the next wildfire for the next adventure and help out where we can.
And that’s where this leaves off. I’m currently sitting in the passenger seat of our truck, writing up this blog post, heading up to Peace River for another wildfire with the Edson unit crew. Only time will tell where the next one takes us, but I’ll make sure to keep you all in the loop!
Until next time, keep crushing it!