Our firefighters, first responders and emergency providers deserve our thanks in a challenging wildfire season

Enough can’t be said about the commitment and hard work of our firefighting community. And in 2023, even more they deserve our sincere thanks.

In spring and early summer, Alberta become the centre of most wildfires in Canada, and now British Columbia and the NWT are in that position.  According to Canadian wildfire officials, the 2023 wildfire season is by far the worst ever recorded, and that’s expected to continue throughout the late summer and fall. Hundreds of wildfires have spread across (mostly western) Canada so far this year, burning more than 153,000 km2 (37.8 million acres), 10 times more than in 2022, and surpassing a previous record of about 71,000 km2 (17.5 million acres) in 1995. To put this year’s burnt area in perspective it would mean that 23% of the province of Alberta would have been on fire.

Wildfires are nothing new for the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service (LSRFS). Every year, when fire season officially starts on March 1, the regional fire service knows it’s only a matter of time before its expertise and resources will be required. None of this is a surprise when you consider Canada has the third-largest forest area in the world.

The LSRFS has five fire stations, eight full time staff, 75 paid on-call firefighters, and 25 search and rescue volunteers covering a 500 km2 area, including the Town of Slave Lake and the Municipal District of Lesser Slave River. While managing wildfires within its own boundaries in May and June 2023, the fire service also answered the call and helped in Edson and High Prairie.

That support from our firefighting community also goes beyond the local level. By June 4, when wildfires moved through our province earlier this year, 1,836 firefighters from British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, the Yukon Territories, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa were on the ground assisting Alberta’s firefighting efforts. In addition, hundreds of troops from the Canadian Armed Forces also joined the effort.

For many of us, firefighters are the people who immediately come to mind when we think of wildfires. For sure, their role is critical on the front lines but even before going to the scene, there are often a lot of people and resources put into determining the severity of a wildfire, identifying the necessary resources required, and the safety of surrounding communities.

The RCMP, Peace Officers and Fish & Wildlife Officers help keep people out of those affected areas who are not designated essential personnel. Medical Personnel are close by in case of injuries.

The job of firefighter can cover a lot of different tasks.

Anyone on the front lines does whatever is required, providing it is safe, to fight a fire. The first responsibility is to protect structures by clearing flammable materials away from buildings and installing sprinkler systems wherever possible. Patrols put out spot fires and if called upon, like in the Smith fire in May 2023 where a large field of grass near some buildings caught on fire – everyone gets involved to fight, contain and eventually put the fire out.

The biggest concern when battling wildfires are lightning storms and wind. These two weather patterns can quickly change a wildfire, and not for the better. On top of weather, firefighters are always looking for falling trees and power lines that may come down, and monitoring equipment to ensure hose lines have water.

As well as recognizing our firefighter community, at Vanderwell we want to acknowledge the people who work for us and have volunteered, (some of them for over 10 years), as firefighters with their local fire service. And last but not least, thank you to all Vanderwell employees and contractors for the hard work you put into your jobs every day to identify and minimize hazards and situations that could cause a potential fire.

Let’s all be safe and watch out for each other!

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