Brush fire halted

Photo courtesy of Bea Lepine A DC-4 water tanker from Buffalo Air takes off at the Merlyn Carter Airport in Hay River Saturday, May 31.

Photo courtesy of Bea Lepine
A DC-4 water tanker from Buffalo Air takes off at the Merlyn Carter Airport in Hay River Saturday, May 31.

Teams of firefighters, both on the ground and in the air, stopped a forest fire 4.2 kilometres from Hay River last weekend.

“We were luck in that the planes and resources weren’t tied up elsewhere and we could call all of them in to help,” said Environment and Natural Resources Officer Jerry Hordal. “This was a high priority fire.”

The blaze was caused by an abandoned camp fire near Lagoon Road and was reported to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) by staff at the Merlyn Carter Airport just before 1 p.m. The department responded with every group water bombers in the NWT and helicopters to suppress the fire.

Vince McKay, deputy chief with the Hay River Fire Department, said the department was throwing everything they had at the situation because it was so close to town. He said the local fire department did their part to fight the blaze before ENR took over in full.
“Forestry is saying it’s a brush fire,” he said Saturday. “They’re saying they’re throwing every resource available at it.”
RCMP Staff Sergeant Chad Orr said that while the cause of the fire was unknown Saturday evening, he respected ENRs reaction.
“I was very impressed with their prompt response,” he said. “They dedicated a lot of resources to it fast.”

The fire was spread over about 1.5 hectares when it was reported and spread to about 20 hectares, or 0.2 square kilometres, before it was contained. Teams of firefighters came in from Fort Providence to help the team from Hay River.

“We were lucky, the wind was blowing away from town and out towards the lake,” said Hordal. “When the first planes started dropping retardant, the fire was burning right through it.”

The wildlife officer said the indicators for risk of fire, referred to as the “drought codes,” for this year are much higher than previous seasons. That means the moisture that is normally present in the ground at this time of year is lower, allowing fires to go deeper and burn longer.

“We’re trying to minimize man-caused fires because we’re expecting naturally-caused ones too, from lighting,” he said, adding that three of the four fires in the South Slave this year so far have started that way.

“Even if we get a little bit of rain, it’s not soaking through.”

Hordal said he hoped this fire would serve as a warning to residents to make sure to properly douse their campfires and to keep someone watching it while it burns.

“All it takes is one spark and the whole thing can go up,” he said. “The fire this time burned towards the lake, but there is a lot of fuel between there and the town of Hay River.”

-Sarah Ladik