EDMONTON - Canada is a huge country with a huge variety of environments: frozen tundra, dense forests, sandy beaches. But right now, a worrying number of places face the same threat:Forest fires.
This week, firefighters battled wildfires in British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories. In total, thousands of people were driven from their homes. The smoke from the wildfires in western Canada is so thick thatair quality warningsthey made it as far north as Ontario.
Climate change is making forest fires more frequent and destructive. This season has started off brutally, with 487 fires burning in Alberta alone; Of these, 92 are still active on Wednesday. In parts of western Canada in particular, wildfires have become an annual norm.
Here are some scenes from various communities in Canada affected by the fires.
BC: "Panic Situation"
Community elders whispered that something "strange and abnormal" was happening with this year's weather.
This season has been drier than usual, rivers are "really, very low" and winter seems to be turning into a hot summer, said Judy Desjarlais, president of the Blueberry River First Nations.
Earlier this month, Desjarlais received a call from her grandmother, an elderly woman in the community, asking her to meet her.
"He said I don't know what it is, but it looks like he's waiting for something to happen. I don't know what it is, but take care of your children," recalls Desjarlais.
"And then we had to evacuate in a week."
The community of Desjarlais is at the epicenter of a 21,000-acre fire that prompted multiple evacuation orders and warnings in the Peace River region of Northeast BC.
Blueberry River First Nations have been on high alert since Friday, when there were reports of ash falling in the community. On Sunday, when the wind shifted towards the community and the smoke thickened, everyone was ordered to leave the area.
“It was kind of a panic because we are in a remote area. We hear that roads are closing everywhere,” Desjarlais said.
Residents are now split between nearby Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, who issued his own evacuation alert Wednesday morning after weather conditions improved overnight.
There is hope that the region will experience some relief in the coming days.
"Today's light wind will present some challenges, but we are confident that we will make good progress today in fighting this fire," Desjarlais said.
However, the situation remains uncertain, with thick smoke limiting visibility and the possibility of further road closures. It is not yet clear when Blueberry River residents will be able to return.
"I built a viaduct yesterday and I was very sorry to see how much damage this fire did... it was sad," said Desjarlais.
Desjarlais said she is extremely grateful for the support they have received from the federal and provincial governments, the Peace River Regional District, and its tribal board and council members.
Alberta: "Everyone works together"
Garrett Howse has been a firefighter for over 20 years, but it was still sobering to see the fire that swept through his community, destroying more than 30 buildings.
"I've never seen anything like it, ever... and that was in Fort Mac," said Howse, 39, referring to the fire that destroyed Fort McMurray in 2016, forcing nearly 90,000 residents to evacuate.
Howse of the East Prairie Métis Settlement in northern Alberta helped put out the fires after about 300 residents were evacuated on May 5.
The fire near the East Prairie Métis settlement has destroyed at least 14 homes and covers more than 69,000 acres. Howse said it was uncontrollable due to the heat, dryness and wind.
“It's hard to explain. One minute you think everything is fine and the next it's blowing up again, it's hot," he said. "They're all working together to save houses, buildings, everything they can."
He said at the time that he was confident they would not lose any more buildings to the fire, but that could change in an instant.
"You did everything you could... and at the end of the day and in the morning, it looks like you didn't do anything at all," Howse said. "But keep trying."
Nearly 400 miles north in John D'Or Prairie, part of the Little Red River Cree Nation, the community is home to residents evacuated from nearby Fox Lake, where firefighters are trying to contain a fire that has gotten out of control and has reached over 32,000. . hectares.
Darryel Sowan, who works for the team, said First Nation is building a camp for evacuees. They currently live on the gym floor, which has been a culture shock for some.
"Some of these people have never been outside the community," Sowan said. "And now suddenly they're sitting on gym mats on the school floor."
In the southeast, in a remote county, Saskatchewan was engulfed in smoke Wednesday after the northern community of Buffalo Narrows was evacuated on Monday. The county currently has 24 active fires.
Nova Scotia: "Try to ignore the helicopters flying overhead"
On Monday night, Fallon and Rebecca Wilson brought pork meatballs to potluck in Little Harbor, New York, about two hours west of Halifax. A neighbor made stuffed mushrooms with parmesan and crab. Another friend brought fish soup and someone else made baked beans.
"We were just trying to take our minds off what was going on around us as best we could, sitting, eating, and talking," says Fallon Wilson.
It worked, at least for a while: they were able to distract attention from the fire burning in front of them. According to county officials, the fire in Shelburne County spread to at least 56 acres on Wednesday afternoon and was 90 percent contained.
The pork in the meatballs came from the couple's own farm,meadows at midnight. Fallon and Rebecca moved from Ontario to the south coast of Nova Scotia three and a half years ago and look after the farm using a range of sustainable land management practices known as permaculture. They plan to shut down the entire farm eventually.
At the height of the fire, the couple saw flames rising above the trees surrounding their property. On Tuesday, they smelled smoke for the first time: an ominous sign of changing winds. The farm is just a quarter of a mile from the leading edge of the fire, Fallon said; they hoped that the swampy area between them and the fire would offer some protection.
Friends who were forced to leave their homes were offered a farm room, usually used for farm stays and Airbnb guests. The community took care of each other, especially the volunteer fire department: 17 volunteers along with 30 county employees fought the fire, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
The community is very close, said Fallon Wilson.
"We are scattered," he added. "Fire keeps us busy so we have a lot to do here to be busy and try to ignore the helicopters flying overhead."
Northwest Territories: "It's just amazing"
In May last year, the flood forced m.inFirst K'atl'odeeche nationevacuate their homes at the mouth of the Hay River in the Northwest Territories. The community was still rebuilding when a fire broke out this week, almost exactly one year later.
"We've lost a lot of homes to the floods," said Chief April Martel. "Now with fire it's madness."
The K'atl'odeeche First Nation was ordered to evacuate to the nearby town of Hay River on Sunday afternoon; soon after, the city was ordered to evacuate, and residents of both communities were told to head to Yellowknife, more than five hours away.
In addition to the cots the city has installed at its Multiplex facility, Yellowknife residents have set up shelter in their own homes and formed Facebook groups for coordination. The gym offered use of showers; campers canceled their spots at fully booked campsites so evacuees could drive their RVs instead.
An update from the city of Hay River on Wednesday morning said the fire was still spinning out of control. On Monday, Martel said firefighters faced a "fire tornado" that was too dangerous to fight, forcing the crew to stop.
The Yellowknife evacuation center had 896 registered evacuees and 298 remained at the multiplex as of Wednesday morning.
Martel said frontline and RCMP teams attacked the building, a cultural institution, shortly before it caught fire. They obtained boxes of video and audio tapes, as well as art and artifacts, and loaded them onto a waiting truck.
These tapes contain "all our elders, all NWT elders, actual video footage and recordings of their voices," said Martel, documentation that is "essential" to the community.
"We have all that history," he said. “We have it all. It is safe."
Korekta — 18 maja 2023 r.: Kleine Haven, NS is about two hours west of Halifax. The earlier version of this column misrepresented the distance.
Omar Moslehis a reporter for The Star from Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter:@Omar Mosleh
Kate Allenais a Toronto-based climate change reporter for Star. Follow her on Twitter:@katecallen
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