Many Canadians seem to have little understanding of wildfires that are happening thousands of kilometres away. Millions of city dwellers in Ontario and Quebec probably have little comprehension of the danger and demolition that accompanies these often thoughtlessly lit fires caused by foolish smokers and careless campers.
Having an early introduction to the danger, I have a deep appreciation for the men and women who are fighting those fires today. I was 17 and a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) when I found I had been volunteered to help fight forest fires in the Temagami Region of Ontario. It was an introduction to the hardest physical work of my lifetime.
I spent over a month in that beautiful, rugged forest. We were roasting in the day and shivering under thin blankets at night. We learned to pay attention to the winds and when the fire tried to crown over us, we ran like hell. I always kept in sight of one of our Ojibwe firefighters, these guys seemed to know the paths of the forest. And the Temagami is a very serious place to get lost
One of our fellow firefighters was a métis and nobody wanted to help carry his pack. He was our dynamite expert. Too often, our only source of water was shallow creeks and we had to blast deep enough basins for our pumps. When he found out I had just come off a six-month course in munitions, he figured I had learned when to duck.
It can take many, many years for the scars of fire to be overpowered by new growth in our forests. We cannot do much about the fires caused by lightning but get the firefighters to them as fast as possible. It makes rain both an ally and an enemy.
I was one of the last of the RCAF ‘volunteers’ to be flown out and sent back to North Bay that summer. I arrived at the air base only to be met at the gate by a Group Captain who looked at me with his mouth wide in surprise. Considering I had lost my cap somewhere near Temagami Lake, my jacket was torn, dirty and covered with black soot, my pants, mainly rags, strung for modesty and my boots held on one foot by a dirty rag. All he said was, “Son I can guess where you are coming from, so you deserve better, but get the hell out of sight.” I said nothing but snapped him a pretty good salute.
Luckily a Security Police Sergeant told me to get in his van and he drove me to my quarters. He was laughing most of the way. He told me I came back on the day the base was undergoing an inspection.
Copyright 2023 © Peter Lowry
Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to: