Breaking the fire – how foresters worked together to protect Elk Lake
2018 has been an exceptionally busy year for forest fires in Ontario. By only mid-August, there have already been over a thousand fires, double the annual total for 2017. Tasked with managing fires across the province, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has been under enormous strain to keep the situation under control and has been requesting assistance from the private sector.
As is the case with many forest fires, North Bay72 or NOR72 was caused by a lightning strike in favorable conditions. It started on July 8th in the Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park and moved Northeast for several days. The fire spread to 27,000 hectares and sent dense smoke over the community of Elk Lake for over a week, causing great concern amongst its 500 residents. The blaze was only 15 kilometers away from city limits when rain finally paused its progress.
Taking advantage of the weather conditions, EACOM worked with the Reeve of James, Terry Fiset, and our colleagues at the Temiskaming Forest Alliance to approach MNRF with an offer of assistance for the fire fighting efforts. The group worked to build a 10 meter wide, 28 km long fire break tight to the North-West flank of NOR72. EACOM’s Woodlands Operations Supervisor, Jeremy Beach, was tasked with coordinating the team of local contractors: Resources Technology Management Inc, Timiskaming Timber Inc., Wayne Lafrance Logging, W. Paiement & Sons, Rosko Forestry, Demarell Forestry, and SM Forestry Services.
“This was the first time I’ve worked on a project like this in my time with EACOM, it is not typical. We are very fortunate to have contractors that were willing to put their regular operations on hold and provide us with the necessary equipment and skilled operators. The 15-member team was really dedicated, all three crews worked for 10 days straight on 12-hour shifts to make sure the fire couldn’t flare up again. The rain had slowed it down, but it was still burning underground, with the potential to pick up again if dry conditions persisted.” – Jeremy Beach.
Fire breaks are strips of land that have been cleared of trees, shrubs and the organic material layer leaving exposed mineral soil to minimize any available fuel that would encourage the fire’s progression. They also provide easy access for staff to run water hoses very close to the fire, should the need arise. The fire has been downgraded from “Out of control” to “Being held” on August 8th. A fire that is “Being held” is not likely to spread beyond its current boundaries based on forecasted conditions.
We at EACOM take great pride in our ability to collaborate with partners and quickly respond to emergencies as they arise. It has been a very busy fire season in Ontario this year and we were pleased to help the MNRF in any way possible. The tireless work that was put in by Jeremy and his team helped contain the fire and saved the Elk Lake community from uncertainty and a possible evacuation.