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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.