Revisit policy on forest fire fighting

Revisit policy on forest fire fighting

16 July 2015

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USA– Durocher is a resident of Beechy and fought forest fires as a young man.

The number of forest fires raging at various locations across the North is alarming, to say the least.

The stress of being evacuated and moved hours away from home is extremely difficult on seniors and children. Never have I seen such numbers of people being transported south because of forest fires.

I am into my sixth decade and have fought forest fires around Ile à la Crosse since I was 16. Some years ago I went to the fire cache in La Ronge, hoping to go firefighting. I just wanted to experience it again after having been away from it for more than 30 years. However, I was sent home because I am not a certified firefighter.

Firefighting has evolved from the days you showed up in runners, a blue jean jacket and blankets wrapped in a canvas tarp. Back then, a float plane dropped you off in small lakes as close as possible to the fire. Your crew carried all the necessary tools, cooking utensils, food, water, blankets, tents, and firefighting equipment to the fire. Sometimes that took multiple trips.

Today, helicopters fly firefighters right to the fire line. Camps are set up along fire lines, sometime right in the bush far from a lake or river. Choppers haul water for the camp and equipment. Most are done firefighting by 6 p.m. There are two changes which I believe are playing a major factor in why there are so many out-of-control forest fires today. No. 1 is the “Let it burn policy,” which the previous government introduced and is being carried on by Premier Brad Wall. The second, and more important, is that firefighters are not allowed to fight fires at night.

We are told that it’s for safety reasons. We fought fires at night the majority of the time in my young days. We slept in the afternoon because it was ridiculous to fight a raging fire in 35-to 40-degree heat.

We rarely had out-of-control fires. We worked hard, we used common sense. I do not recall anyone getting injured fighting fires at night. City firefighters don’t quit responding to fires after the sun sets. Why is it any different with forest firefighting? Fighting fires at night is easier than people want to believe. The flames are down on the ground. Rarely is there any treetop crowning of fires at night or early mornings. It is also much cooler to work at night than with a scorching sun overhead.

Because most of us depended on trapping and natural resources for sustenance, we worked extra hard to put the fires out. I rarely ever heard of a community getting evacuated. Of course the sickly, some elders and young children were put into safe locations, but weren’t hauled south. This evacuating everyone south is a cash cow for certain businesses – costing money that is better spent on firefighting.

The government has the power to allow firefighters to be on the fire lines 24/7 until the situation is under control. The let it burn policy should be abolished because every piece of our province is important, not just minesites and tourist camps.

We all enjoy time at our cabins, traplines and fishing camps, so why can’t these assets be protected as well? I think it is time for governments to pull their collective heads out of the sand and allow nighttime fire fighting, at least until the danger passes.

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