Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Work Camping

Or perhaps it is ‘camping at work’?  Either way, I have been hard at work, while still living in the wilderness in my trailer and my little side-kick Hailey.

We both enjoyed a little time at home, in the big house, with it’s unlimited showers, and stairs for one of us to race up and down while chasing plastic mice and imaginary prey. 

While at home last time, I noticed a mountain bluebird checking out the birdhouses on my driveway, but it was evident that the entrance was too small.  So I ran out quickly with my drill, and made the holes a bit larger.


I was pleased to see this time back, that a pair were obviously busy hauling nesting material into their new accommodations.

Close-up photo taken through my binoculars.  Sure wish I had Al’s camera gear ( and knew how to use it!).


It is supposed to be a 10 days on – 4 days off arrangement, but because of the fire situation, my last shift was 12-2 instead.  Because, just as I was making my last blog post, the winds were up, the fires were spreading fast, and two small villages in this area had to be evacuated. After several days the situation had moderated, and the residents were allowed back, but the fire still refuses to go out, and is still consuming a lot of resources and aircraft.

Just for a change on our return to work, we moved camp about 3500’ to the other end of the airstrip, filling up with water along the way.  Now we are further from the road, and have a bit more privacy, and a bit of a view.


And it wasn’t long before Hailey was checking out the new view – from the top of my work truck.


I’ve been out in the woods exploring a bit and found some fresh wolf tracks on a cut-line just outside camp, and some wreckage from a long-ago aircraft, from the days when the strip was still in use for fixed wings.  Today it is strictly a helicopter base.


In spite of the fires slowing down a bit, we still had 5 helicopters on the ground at supper time, but only two spent the night.

The view on my morning walk to work.


We had to open up another couple fire lookouts this week.  One of them was a drive-up mountain top location,


while the other was strictly fly-in.


Even though it is mid May, at this elevation there was still a lot of snow to shovel, so a whole crew was in order.


Our two taxis!


On my commute back to the Fire Base, I passed through a portion of the stubborn fire that caused one of the evacuations.

Orange strip is a retardant drop from aircraft.


Portable tanks are filled by helicopter to supply water for pumps.


Some of the heavy equipment haulers lined up near the fire.CIMG8970

Meanwhile more equipment is on standby for the next call.


This week we will be starting the first round of supply flights to bring food and water to the lookouts that have been operating for a while.  And, perhaps some new fires to deal with.  Maybe even some more overtime!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Spring? Summer?

Not really sure if it is summer already (we missed spring), or if this is still spring and more snow storms are on the way ;-(

At any rate, the first batch of large, slow mosquitoes are out, and the leaves are just starting to come out on the trees.

But one thing is sure – it IS the start of Fire Season!

In the past week I have visited a couple more fire lookouts in our area.

One of the lookouts is road accessible, after being opened with a cat, but I still needed 4wd to make it up the road on the muddy sections.


The next one is not road accessible, so we used a 212 helicopter to fly up the lookout observer, and his first batch of water and supplies. We worked on replacing damaged solar panels, and made sure all the lookout equipment was present and working properly.


Back over home – Shunda Fire Base


After the usual early season grass fires, the action has picked up quite a bit.  One of the first fires was just 10km from the base, and fairly close to the tower visited in the last blog posting.  It took a few days to get control of, then a more problematic one started near the town of Nordegg.

Being in difficult terrain including old logging slash, coupled with varied and changeable winds, it has been a challenge – making repeated attempts to escape containment.  Since it was close to this base, it created a lot of air traffic that was constant all day long, with frequent helicopter line ups for fuel, and regular deliveries to avoid running low.  Crews were also called in from more northerly locations where fire season has not yet arrived.

Bomber groups from tanker bases were constantly overhead, and water bombers were scooping water from nearby Abraham Lake to drop on the flames.

Around 12 different helicopters were my frequent visitors for a time.


The town has been under a 1 hour evacuation notice for several days now.  Very strong, gusting winds blowing toward the community have drawn in county and provincial law enforcement officers to assist in any evacuation should it be necessary.  Today, they almost outnumbered the residents.  Structural fire fighters from neighbouring communities are also all around, with large water tanks stationed at key locations.


Smoke is blanketing the town, from the fire, about 2km beyond the ridge.


Meanwhile, Hailey is watching all the action from her vantage point on the end of the de-activated runway.

Stay tuned …