It's not hard for anyone to concur that there's a vast difference in landscape between Saskatchewan and British Columbia. In fact, many prairie born people ensure that a trip to the west coast is crossed off their list sooner or later, to take in the imposing mountain ranges and deep forests, as well as to dip their toes in the vast Pacific ocean.

However, at this moment, the iconic scenery is obscured by smoke from hundreds of wildfires ravaging the province. The topography itself also makes for it's own challenges when it comes to fighting the infernos.

"The wildland environment out on the west coast is definitely a little bit different than what you would see here, because there's such a huge fuel load that they have to deal with, a lot of aerial fuels and a lot of times it leads to a chain reaction occurring. If the tree tops start to burn, it starts to spread quite rapidly," explained Estevan's Fire Chief, Dale Feser, who continued to outline that task that the crews on the scene are facing.

"It's a whole different work environment than doing structural fire fighting, because of the many dangers that are associated with the type of environment that they're working with. You have to take into consideration the topography of the land, fuel load, and wind direction. A lot of times, when these fires grow to such size and intensity, they start creating their own weather patterns."

He added that it's a constantly changing environment, as the massive blazes begin to make their own winds. Crews must also take the escaping wildlife, such as bears, cougars and snakes, into consideration. Not only that, but they must keep the heavy equipment being operated in mind too.

Those on direct-attack duty are literally in the bush with fire hoses, while indirect-attack entails cutting fireguards and lines with machines, and even digging in by hand to help prevent the fire from jumping to further fuel.

"The fire fighters that are currently on the front lines out there, they're not offered a lot of amenities. They're lucky if they have a roll of toilet paper in their backpack, should they have to use the washroom. They sleep on the ground wherever they get a chance, when they get a chance, when it's safe to do so."

"We can't thank those fire fighters out there enough, that are continuing to do the job of trying to bring these fires under control and contained to a manageable level," Feser said.

The Chief noted that the task is no doubt physically and mentally exhausting. The wildland fire fighter is often required to work 16-18 hour days or longer, whatever it takes, as wildfires don't take coffee breaks or close up shop for the night.

"A lot of times, there's just no quit in these guys. Often times, you see a lot of community support in these areas, where people are coming in and supplying food. Quite honestly, to keep these guys hydrated and their nutritional levels up and maintained is quite a feat in and of itself. They're constantly working, and a lot of times they don't get a chance to get a hot meal, so they're very appreciative of any sort of help or support."

BC has issued formal requests for help to many provinces, including Saskatchewan, as well as other countries. However, it would be a while before anyone from Estevan's Fire Department is called into duty, as a notable load of training would have to be conducted first before sending one into such an environment.

 

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