Fighting wildfires on Dragon Mountain
By Robert Mackenzie
Published Aug. 8, 2017
Chris Giatti was on one of his few days off when he was told he’d be heading out to British Columbia to help fight the province’s ongoing wildfires.
Giatti, a 23-year-old fire ranger at Haliburton’s Fire Management headquarters, is one of 24 fire staff from the county that have been sent to B.C. amidst their state of emergency.
When he arrived to Quesnel, B.C., on July 11, Giatti and his three crew members were sent to Dragon Mountain to fight off a fire that he says covered almost 600 hectares of land.
“When we got over there you could definitely see that they were in a state of emergency,” he said.
When the Haliburton crews first arrived to their accommodations at the University of Northern British Columbia, there were about five evacuees staying in the gym, according to Giatti. By the time he left the province, Giatti says the entire gym was filled with evacuees, so much so that the fire rangers had to be shuttled into the town to take showers.
While there were fires throughout the province, the fire Giatti was working on was labelled as priority because of its close proximity to the city of Quesnel. Giatti said he could see the fire from the highway entering the city and that flames off the trees were probably as high as 100 feet tall.
Giatti said that fires like that sound like a freight train. “It sounds like a train just running through everything. It’s crazy, you hear trees falling but it’s got its own life to it. It’s pumping through and it’s turning everything to carbon, it’s so much energy.”
The five crews working on the fire from Haliburton, Sudbury and Chapleau, Ont., were tasked with providing an “initial attack” on the Dragon Mountain fire – they were the first ones on the line and had to establish a water source to deal with the fire.
Last week, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s northeast region spokesperson Shayne McCool told the Echo that Ontario fire rangers were particularly skilled at moving water from large bodies to areas of need. Giatti says that the crews working on Dragon Mountain created large dams in nearby creeks in order to have enough water to power their high-pressure pumps.
Giatti returned to Haliburton on July 28, as other crews from Haliburton were sent out to B.C. Fire rangers are only allowed to spend a maximum of 19 days out of province, and require two off days immediately following those consecutive days of work. Because of this, the 12 crews in Haliburton’s headquarters have been cycling between working in the county, B.C. and rest days.
“It looked like everyone was definitely tired when they were coming back. They definitely needed the two days rest,” Giatti said.
B.C. announced they were in a state of emergency July 7. Since that time, Ontario has sent more than 300 fire staff out west to help control the fire, along with supplying extra fire hose and pump kits
“They’ll send us out like they send out pumps and that’s what it should be because we’re malleable,” Giatti said. “We can go over there and we can work like dogs and we can stay here and we work like dogs, which I think we all like to do.”
A Mississauga native, Giatti has been working at the Haliburton fire headquarters for the past three years after studying in the firefighting and fire life and safety systems technician programs at Durham College.
Giatti says that when he was in college bush firefighting was one thing that stuck with him, which is a reason why he applied to be a fire ranger.
“It’s a different type of firefighting, but I love hard work so I love it,” he said.
Now that he’s had his two days of rest, Giatti says he’s ready to go back to B.C. if needed.
“I would really like to go out there and help out again. I feel like your efforts are most valued out there and you can definitely see that from all the scratches on your feet and all your blisters getting opened up,” he said. “You just want to go out there and help the people most in need.”