On the afternoon of Aug. 17, fire trucks were called out to extinguish what appeared to be an abandoned campfire in Range Lake. Attending crews had some challenges dealing with it from ground level because of difficult accessibility and a helicopter was brought in by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to help.
It was successfully extinguished but what was not so successful was alleviating the concern of residents, some of whom were thinking about what could have happened if the fire had not been reported or put out quickly.
With tinder-dry conditions and extreme heat, this inner-city fire had the potential for disaster.
It is not certain who started and abandoned this fire. Some say it was kids, others say it could have been a campsite, but whoever it may have been, it is clear that some among us are not taking the fire situation as seriously as needed. One thing for sure, it’s a call to keep up the discussion and the public education around climate change and fire safety.
This fire, as innocuous as it may have seemed, had the potential for serious consequences — even death, if it had jumped out of control. With fire induced winds, that is always a potential during this time of global climate crisis and weather uncertainty.
It became clear Wednesday, with another lighting-caused fire burning south of the city, that we are not having this discussion about the danger of fire often enough. Things are not as they used to be.
People who say they like the heat we are experiencing are mocking the dangerous times in which we live. This is the subarctic. If they like the heat, Mexico or Florida may be a better option for them, not here where we need what is left of the permafrost to provide the habitat and ground cover to prevent a major burn, such as that experienced in 2014.
Parts of Europe saw some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded this year with thousands of firefighters brought in to extinguish fires in France, Portugal, Germany, Italy and Spain, where burns caused massive destruction of the land and large-scale evacuations.
More than 1,000 deaths have been linked to extreme temperatures in Portugal and 500 in Spain this summer. The world famous Loire River in France, a UNESCO heritage site, has dried to a trickle – testimony to the global drought affecting us all. Let’s not forget that the heat dome in British Columbia last summer killed more than 600 people.
Extreme temperatures causing extreme fires is our new summer norm, and it will get worse until we individually and collectively act to change this downward spiral.
Just south of the border, California recorded a historic number of fires. A friend living in the northern quarter of that state said Saturday that a nearby fire was only 10 per cent contained though the surrounding area had been doused with fire retardant. We have become a society of desperate measures.
Here at home, fire crews were brought in from nearby provinces to fight three major fires in Newfoundland last week, parts of which remained under a state of emergency for more than a week because of soaring heat, poor air quality and fast-moving flames. Fire can outsmart us if given the chance. At this time of writing, Sunday, only one blaze is under control. That is our Canada burning up, it is our country in trouble.
Heatwaves have indeed become more frequent, more intense and last longer because of human-induced activities causing climate change. We have certainly noticed that here in the North, where late August is generally a time when we feel the first hints of fall. But not this year where August feels like July. The hot days of summer refuse to end.
The world has already warmed by 1.1 C since the industrial era began and will continue to change unless governments make reducing emissions a priority and until consumers change their ways. Simple acts such as refusing to use plastic bags can literally save lives. Anything less is irresponsible.
Climate change is our new assailant — fire it’s weapon and firefighters our new soldiers.
The fire in Range Lake last week was handled quickly and efficiently, making it easy for us to forget what could have happened. But none of us can ignore the real threat fires of any kind or size pose in these volatile times. With a sudden shift of the wind, we could easily lose our homes, our cities and even our lives.
It is up to each of us to monitor our behaviours and realize that unattended and abandoned fires now have the potential for disaster. We help our firefighters in their sometimes-life-threatening work by watching what we do.