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Parks on Fire

Fighting Fire with Fire at Syncline Ridge

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Audio Podcast 2: Fighting Fire with Fire at Syncline Ridge

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir 

Hi, I’m Kim Weir, and this is Parks on Fire. Episode 2: Fighting Fire with Fire at Syncline Ridge.

Intro I’ve never felt this kind of pressure in my life. And when the road opened at 9:30 or something at night, it was quite the lightshow for people that were driving by after that and I think they understood why, then, we had to close the road.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir

On the afternoon of July 24, 2003, fire specialists Randy Fingland and Steve Otway received a call that would change their summer. A combination of hot weather, extreme fire danger and strong east winds had caused burning embers from a May prescribed burn to re-ignite into a forest fire.

Otway remembers that day well.

Steve Otway:
Incident Commander

I remember that afternoon in July of 03, when I received the call. It was a very dry summer. This is on the heels of the 2002 season, which was record drought in this portion of Canada. There was not much recovery over that winter and so it was not overly surprising that in 2003, we were in a moisture deficit. And this fire had decided to do its own thing. And I immediately packed my gear and I was down the highway as fast as I could to Jasper.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


It was too dangerous to put fire crews on the ground.

Steve Otway:
Incident Commander

When we got there we realized that this fire is too large to extinguish practically. So, the big thing about mountain fires versus say, fires in the boreal forest is that topography is so steep that there are many places where it’s too dangerous for people to go because they can’t escape quick enough if something crazy happens. Because you can’t just land a helicopter or they can’t just run away from a fire on the side of a mountain.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


The Syncline fire burned south up the Rocky River Valley, away from Highway 16 and buildings at risk. Smoke generated from this fire and other fires in Alberta and BC, affected downwind communities and Jasper intermittently throughout the month of August.

Fire and vegetation specialist Dave Smith, played the role of community liaison that summer.

Dave Smith:
Fire-Veg Specialist

What we found though, is with the Syncline fire, communications was arguably the most important tool we had. People need to know what’s going on. We made ourselves available for their questions and gave them daily updates by phone, through the internet and through regular conversation. We saw a total change in the attitudes of people towards the important work that we were doing.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


The fire was managed by one of Parks Canada’s fire command teams made up of fire specialists from across the country.

Steve Otway:
Incident Commander


I was called in with my team and our task then is to take this fire that’s now larger and has exceeded containment and, as a wildfire, to reassess on a fire analysis we call fire situation analysis, as to what our options might be moving forward with an uncontained fire – now a wildfire. There were three major burning operations that occurred on that fire. One was very large but two were just as significant only much more pinpoint in nature and technically, in some instances, as difficult or more.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


Safety was the top priority of the fire management team.

Steve Otway:
Incident Commander


That Friday afternoon long-weekend we shut the highway so there were hundreds of cars backed up within no time – all the way up to Hinton, and Jasper and back. And we burned out the 3400 hectares, which is a very large burning operation, and brought the fire to the highway - which is not an easy task. And when the road opened at 9:30 or something at night, it was quite the lightshow for people that were driving by after that and I think they understood why, then, we had to close the road.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


The fire team and firefighters worked almost around the clock.

Steve Otway:
Incident Commander


And you know it’s tough on your family. I mean I was lucky that the park allowed me to bring my family out here. I had three or four days off in the park - before I when back to work partway through my shift - to see everybody else from home, because I had just been on the road it seemed like all summer. It was arguably what I figured, at that time, 500 million dollars worth of economic impact had we not been successful. I’ve never felt this kind of pressure in my life.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


Fire managers put their decades of experience in fighting, lighting and researching fire to the test during 2003, considered one of the biggest fire years on record in Western Canada.

Steve Otway:
Incident Commander


Over my… now over 30 years of fire management business, I understand that you never boss a fire around. I’m never in charge of a fire and I never believe I am. But I do believe we can work with nature and fire if you’ve got a reasonable amount of humility and respect for what you’re doing

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


You’ve been listening to Parks on Fire, a podcast developed by Parks Canada’s Fire Management Team.

Narrator:
This audio program was a production of Parks Canada, an agency of the Government of Canada responsible for Canada’s national parks, national marine conservation areas and many of Canada’s national historic sites. To learn more about Parks Canada, to download more podcasts and to find accessible transcripts of our podcasts please visit the Parks Canada website at www.parkscanada.gc.ca.

The contents of this audio file are the copyright of Parks Canada 2011. This podcast series is also available in French on i-Tunes as well as the Parks Canada’s website. Ce balado est également disponible en français sur i-Tunes de même que le site web de Parcs Canada. Thanks for listening.