NWT forest fires – Inside a fire camp, and witnessing the flames

Forest fires in the Northwest Territories have been particularly bad this summer, making national news and costing millions of dollars more than what was budgeted to fight the fires. I visited family in the Northwest Territories in late August and experienced first hand encounters with forest fires visible from the highway, and had a chance to see inside a fire camp.

nwtfire3
A forest fire burns near power lines and the highway between Hay River and Fort Smith

I could smell smoke in the air from the very moment I stepped off of the airplane, and there was a light haze to the air.  Some mornings the smoke from fires around the territory would creep into the streets, and one evening as we sat outside we were lightly sprinkled with small pieces of ash from the burning forests.

nwtfire2
Tall smoke columns could be seen from fires far in the distance

While driving from Hay River to Fort Smith (on a mission to spot a Bison in Wood Buffalo National Park), I could see small puffs of smoke coming out of the trees and bushes. Many of these were still smoldering from a larger fire, but some were still actively burning with open flames just near the highway.

There were also multiple smoke columns growing from the forest in the not-too-far distance from the road. These fires in particular were in a national park and will be left to burn naturally, unless they threaten a road.

nwtfire4
Puffs of smoke from small fires could be seen just off the side of the highway
nwtfire
This forest fire was right next to the highway, but you can see that it did not make it across the highway to the trees on the other side
While in Wood Buffalo National Park I saw open flames just next to the highway
While in Wood Buffalo National Park I saw open flames just next to the highway
bison2
I did end up seeing a bison, but he wasn’t interested in being my model and he charged the vehicle

I visited a fire camp at Polar Lake, where the fire fighters stayed while they worked on controlling a nearby fire. The camp was mostly empty because the crew was all away at work, and I had the chance to meet a pilot and take a look at how life on the camp operated.  The campsite was right on the lake, where a loon paddled across the calm water just off shore from the helicopter landing area.

Polar Lake fire camp where the fire fighters stayed while they fought forest fires in the area
Polar Lake fire camp was home to fire fighters while they fought forest fires in the area
nwtfire8
The campsite’s picnic area has become a helicopter pad while the fire fighters occupy the camp

The camp was simple and mostly consisted of tents and a few mobile showers, but my favourite part was the outdoor kitchen. Fire camps are temporary, but the make-shift shelving and appliances made this camp kitchen feel really cozy.

The fire camp's kitchen was fairly basic but made the camp feel more like a home
The fire camp’s kitchen was fairly basic but made the camp feel more like a home
You could almost forget that you were in the middle of the forest with a kitchen like this
You could almost forget that you were in the middle of the forest with a kitchen like this
nwtfire12
The improvised shelving and organization was impressive and inviting
nwtfire123
These old tins were turned into stove-top bread toasters
This outdoor shower had temperature control, and required a high level of trust that no one will peek
This outdoor shower had temperature control, and required a high level of trust that no one will peek

Fire season usually slows down by the end of August, but this year there are still new fires starting in the third week of the month. The men and women that fight those fires have worked endlessly to protect communities and the forests and all we can do is hope for a lot of rain.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s