© Photo special to The Guardian
Firefighter Mike Montigny stands next to the charred remains of a wooded area in the Mt. McAllister area north of Prince George, B.C.
Two members of the P.E.I. Department of Forestry are back from several weeks fighting forest fires in northern British Columbia.
Mike Montigny and Jeff Hannam both worked on the Mt. McAllistar fire some 250 kilometres north of Prince George, B.C.
“The Mt. McAllister fire covered some 16,000 hectares in very difficult mountainous terrain,” said Montigny.
“The experience and knowledge we gained by working there was outstanding and it could help us here on P.E.I. in future wildfire situations.”
Montigny noted that each day they were helicoptered into the site with up to 60 pounds of supplies per person. Usually they worked on steep, slippery mountainsides and focused on digging out hot spots that were smoldering underground.
The Islanders worked in a team alongside forest firefighters from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. P.E.I. co-operates with other governments across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico through an agreement that can provide firefighters and equipment when local fire resources are stretched.
“The work was hot, dangerous and physically demanding,” said Hannam.
“But the local people would often come up to us to shake our hands and offer a personal thank you for our efforts and that really made it all worthwhile.”
This area of British Columbia has experienced major forest losses due to an outbreak of the Mountain Pine beetle.
Montigny noted that huge areas of lodgepole pine forest had been killed by these tiny beetles, and the dead trees were now providing fuel for forest fires across much of the region.
The Mountain Pine Beetle outbreak is related to the changing climate in northern B.C. and western Alberta. Warmer temperatures have allowed more of the beetles to survive the winter, and hot dry weather in summer stresses the trees, decreasing their ability to fend off the beetle attack.
While the Acadian Forest region is much more diverse in terms of tree species, in recent years some species such as white spruce have shown signs of stress and early mortality related to high insect numbers. The lessons these firefighters learned in British Columbia should help P.E.I. to be better prepared for future wildfire situations.