This week I have been following the news about the massive wild fire in Arizona and the loss of life of the 19 fire fighters. It has spoiled the Canada Day celebrations for me. Instead I have followed this story and tried to understand it all the while feeling very weepy about it. Such a dreadful loss for so many families from one community. It is an absolute horror for the brotherhood of fire fighters who do this dangerous work. I think also of those in charge whose planning went so wrong that a crew ended up perishing. And still, the fire rages on.
Here is Northern Ontario we live with the threat of forest fires every year. Some years it is worse than others depending on the weather. We have become very skilled at fighting fire small ones and large ones. Some if they are remote enough are allowed to just burn, for fire is a natural part of the life cycle and renewal of forests.
Last year we had a very large fire just north of where I live. It is known as the Timmins Fire 9. It burned over and area of 40,000 hectares, southwest of the city of Timmins, such that it presented a threat to that city. It began in mid May and was not officially declared out until November when first snows fell. It was not raging flames over that period of time, most of the hard and dirty work for forest fire suppression crews are going over the burned over areas and making sure fire fire does not spring up again from the smoldering soil, which burns, and downed trees continuing to burn from the inside out.
Our record of fighting fires is very good. Last year, the Timmins 9 fire was just one of 600 fires fought that year, an average fire season. We have learned over the years how do it, when and how to fight the fire. There is the use of aircraft dropping water on the fire and some chemicals to suppress the fire. There is heavy equipment on the ground to clear fire brakes of help gain access to the fire. And, or course, there are men and women on the ground with saws, shovel, water back packs and the running for hose trying to protect peoples camps and homes where possible. It is one of the toughest of jobs in the heat and dirt and long hours.
In thirty of forty years there has not been a single death of a forest firefighter in Ontario, a vast area much larger than any US State. What went wrong in Arizona that they had this tragedy compared to Ontario record. I don't know all the answers but some things suggest themselves. Ontario has fires in and around a multitude of lakes and rivers. There is lots of water to fight fires Water bombing is widely used. Escape in an emergency can be into the water..The water bodies can be used as natural firebreaks. While our land is rough it is not mountainous. Our summer temperatures are not as hot as Arizona and our climate is not as dry. We do not note call our forest fire fighters, "hot shots". They are called forest fire technicians. Is this a difference in attitude. Fighting a fire is not a heroic challenge. It is a containment exercise beginning around the edges gaining advantage when nature allows. To my knowledge, fires here are not fought up close in a frontal assault. The safety of the workers is paramount, forest will regrow and human structures can be rebuilt. I trust lessons are learned from the tragedy of the death of Arizona's forest firemen.
(click to enlarge)
Part if the 64 mile front of part of Timmins 9 fire. It was 10 miles wide as some points.
The Northeast has had some massive fires. There was a time in the early 20th century rapid settlement in the area, due to the building of the Ontario Northern Railroad and the discovery of gold and silver in the area,
there were terrible fires: the Porcupine Fire, 1911, the Matheson fire, 1916, and the Great Fire around Hailybury, 1922. were the worst. As a result of the Matheson Fire the decision was made by the government to develop the capacity for fight fires. In these early fires, local people were on their own. The stories of how some of them died is tragic. One group thought if the crouched down in railroad rock cut the fire would safe pass over them. It did but it also used up all the oxygen on the ground. This story came to mind when I read about the Arizona firefighters on the ground under their fire blankets. In an area of many lakes and rivers many survived by going into the water Below is a monument in Hailybury depicting doing this. The sculpture is by Ernie Fauvelle
I HAVEN‟T THE STRENGTH TO HOLD
Living in the Northern forest, we must always be vigilant to against forest fire. Most are started by lightening strikes and those caused by human activity must be kept to a minimum.