Firefighters in the Field: Highs and Lows at Bull Frog Lake
For those of you who read my last blog post, you may remember that we were just about to head off to Ontario to assist with their wildfire situation. Our crew was feeling excited and a little nervous (not knowing what to expect), but honored to join nine other Alberta Helitack crews on the journey to Sudbury, Ontario.
We were sent to North Bay from Sudbury and then to a large complex called the River Valley Complex (or what my crew happily refers to as the Bull Frog Lake Fire – we’ll get to that later). Let’s start with the tough parts (depending on who you are). Ontario has a slightly different way of fighting wildfires than Alberta. They often camp out on the fireline for a full 14-day shift, which is exactly what we ended up doing. Helicopters drop off the important items like food, toilet paper, and garbage bags; all of the things you need to live out in the bush for two weeks. Staying on the fireline sometimes means no showers, no cell service, no charging of electronics, and no place to comfortably use “the loo”. Depending on who you are, this might be your worst nightmare, but for others it could be a much-needed break from civilization – a way to get in touch with another side of yourself, perhaps to find a little bit of tranquility. I was fortunate to be working with people who decided on the latter and embraced every minute of being uncomfortable. Well, mostly. We all had our “moments”.
My “moment” happened in a location the High Level crew cleverly dubbed the “Frying Pan”. It’s the spot where I imagined you would be most likely to see a mirage somewhere on the horizon, though there was nothing desert-like about the high humidity. It was a large, overly exposed area with no shade. We had to lay hose from our pump site in the middle of the “Frying Pan” during the hottest part of the day. That’s one of those moments where you look like you’ve taken a dunk in the lake because you’re sweating so profusely. These are the moments where you’ve just gotta keep going, laugh a little and imagine you’re not feeling like a piece of bacon in a frying pan.
My other crew member had his “moment” on our first night camping out on the fireline, before we had the mosquito clock figured out (you need to be in your tent before 9:45 p.m. or you’ll be swarmed). He decided to set up a hammock that comes with its own bug net. Usually you might get one or two in your hammock when you open the bug net to climb inside, but that wasn’t the case for this guy. He accidentally tore it down, allowing the mosquitoes to swarm him and his hammock. He spent the next 6 hours with buzzing in his ears as he tried to sleep. Needless to say he wasn’t as well-rested the next day.
We had a few other “moments” but were pretty fortunate to have had an amazing experience in Ontario. We worked with passionate, hardworking, highly skilled Ontario crews, ate amazing home-cooked meals every night, and hit the big jackpot: our camping spot was situated next to a beautiful Ontario lake. For some strange reason I never fully understood what people were talking about when they compared Alberta lakes with Ontario. I grew up in Lac La Biche, so I kind of assumed it couldn’t be more impressive than Lakeland country. Though I wouldn’t say anything is more impressive (loyal to the Lakeland), it’s just on a whole different scale. We were able to fly around the wildfire and there were lakes everywhere! The lake we were situated on was teaming with different friends; we had snakes, bull frogs, and so many cute little frogs making hilarious “doing-doing” noises (thus the name Bull Frog Lake Fire). After a day working hard in the “Frying Pan” there was nothing more glorious than having a “bath” in a warm Northern Ontario lake. These are the moments where I think “wow, this really is the best job in the world”.