Firefighters return from assisting in Alberta
By Jenn Watt
June 21, 2016
Fighting a wildfire in Alberta is a bit different than in Ontario, says Haliburton MNRF fire ranger Jordan Laronde.
Laronde was part of the group of eight sent from the Haliburton base to assist with fires raging in Fort McMurray and Peace River, Alta., in May.
“We have more water, where Alberta doesn’t have as many lakes and ponds as Ontario. They’re [using] more hand tools and heavy equipment.”
That equipment could be bulldozers, excavators and forestry equipment, says fire information officer for the MNRF Shayne McCool.
“In Ontario, we’re spoiled, we have water sources pretty well everywhere, so we typically attack fires with pump and hose and water bombers,” he says. “In Alberta … in certain areas they may not have water sources nearby so what they’ll do in those situations is they’ll take the same approach as we do in the sense that they’re going to surround the fire, but instead of applying water to that fire’s edge, they’ll actually come in with heavy equipment.”
With the equipment, they will dig the vegetation and the soil to create a fire break.
Laronde was sent to Peace River where he worked from May 6 to 22 about 12 hours a day.
The team of firefighters was tasked with making a fire’s edge, soaking an area to create a boundary.
“We were laying hose around a perimeter of the fire,” Laronde says. “You’ll have a guy on a hose and another guy on a nozzle, or girl, and they just soak the line as far as they can reach in and make a good fire’s edge.”
Firefighters will work to create an increasingly thick buffer of wetted land to block the fire.
“You’ll lay your first line in and you’ll start working your way back, patrolling the line making sure it’s not hot anywhere. Once you have a good edge you’ll start working your way in,” Laronde says.
“Once we have our entire section of our line established, that’s just the first part where we’ve extinguished the edge of the fire now we’ll decide it’s time to move in deeper to the interior,” McCool adds. “So, instead of having a five foot perimeter line – five feet of wetted down area where the flame used to be – now we’ll move in and create a 10 foot area of space where the fire used to be. Then we’ll continue moving in. We’ll do that in small doses.”
For safety reasons, firefighters don’t battle blazes at the “head” of the fire, which is part of the fire that is moving forward. That is done from the air.
“Fire is typically pushed by wind. So, if the wind is coming from the west, the fire will be moving east. … If that’s the case, in a fire like they saw in Fort McMurray or Peace River they’re not going to put firefighters at the eastern side of that fire,” McCool says. That’s because the fire is active and moving too quickly.
“At that point we’d pull them out and bring in water bombers. It’s a safety thing, but it’s also an effectiveness thing,” he says.
Laronde works for MNRF seasonally, renting a place in Haliburton during the summer and returning to his home in Eganville during the winters. He says in the past he has been asked to assist in the Yukon, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and has been to Alberta twice.
Ontario deployed 168 MNRF fire rangers to Alberta to assist with the fires, 16 of whom were from Haliburton. Haliburton also contributed three overhead staff members.