It is that time of year again. After a long, cold and hard winter we are enjoying our summer here in the north. For a number of weeks, the weather was hot across Canada and although we welcomed this sunny, dry and balmy weather in the north, in cities the heat was deadly.
I was shocked to learn that dozens of people died due to affects of a heat wave in Montreal. Of course those who passed on were people with health problems already. However, I find it hard to believe that in our first world country we do not offer sufficient care and concern for the elderly and people with health issues that suffer during a heat wave. It seems like we have enough money to spend on all kinds of involvement in wars on this planet but we can’t provide great health care, superior public transportation, good and safe roads and proper housing for those who are not as fortunate as many of us.
Dry, hot spells also tend to feature forest fire outbreaks right across the country. Recently, there was a major forest fire just off of Highway 11 in Temagami, Ont. as well as many other places in the country. The fact that there was a huge fire just down the road from me is concerning but I realize too that the Ministry of Natural Resources and local firefighters are capable of great things when dealing with these threatening situations. It is one thing to read about a fire like this in the newspaper, online or view it on TV, but being close to one is terrifying. I have witnessed a couple of big forest fires through the years and they are so powerful and destructive. A forest fire can come up very quickly and often is started by lightening during thunder storms or people who are careless with their campfires.
These enormous fires are like big bombs when they get going and the heat from them can ignite trees and buildings from far away. They also move very quickly and a big fire is impossible to outrun when raging and driven by wind. Miles of forest are destroyed, as well as homes and cottages. The fire also kills many animals and birds while also wiping out their habitat.
Here in the north we have a long history of dealing with devastating forest fires. For many years now we have discovered all kinds of ways of preventing forest fire and fighting them with water bombers, together with state of the art equipment, trained people and modern resources.
Still these days it seems that global warming is playing a role and we are experiencing dry, hot spells throughout North America. When the land is dry and it is very hot a fire can start with just a spark. It seems that one of the things that comes out of the volatile weather patterns we see due to global warming results in these hot and dry spells that fuel these forest fires.
Long ago my ancestors saw these fires in a different way and understood that they were a necessary part of life. When old growth forests are burned then new life springs up.
They were also greatly feared and Elders and traditional people were always leery of their young people around camp fires. Our parents constantly warned us about playing with fire and in leaving campfires unattended. They had witnessed forest fires helplessly on their own in the wilderness. In our northern community of Attawapiskat, lightening was always feared by our Elders because it was a common source of ignition for most forest fires and before modern protections, it was the cause of many house fires that destroyed our oldest buildings.
These days though there are so many things that contribute to forest fire starts and it demands we be aware and careful to do what we can when out camping on the land and lighting fires. I see so many people who start camp fires without checking to see if there are any alerts or warnings. When a forest is dry it takes very little for a fire to rise up in a flash and the flames jump from tree to tree as though alive.
There are things we can do to prevent fires and they include: checking to see what the fire hazard is at, put out any fire with lots of water and sand before you leave it, build a fire in a contained space like a pit or outside fireplace and don’t start a fire if it is a very windy day. At the very least we can do that.