Bryce Lytle, Carrot River’s fire chief, was one of the many volunteer firefighters who responded over Thanksgiving weekend to the Bell fire affecting northern Saskatchewan.
Carrot River council voted on Oct. 19 to compensate Carrot River Fire and Rescue’s responders, paying a standard $18 per hour on Thanksgiving Day, as well a personal vehicle payout at $62 per hour.
Lytle said that for Carrot River Fire and Rescue, the day had started on Thursday, Oct. 7, with the Smoke fire reaching the RM of Moose Range the day before.
“Before we got the call from the Public Safety Agency, we actually had a report from multiple members in the RM of Moose Range, farmers that notified us that during Wednesday night that the fire had blown in,” Lytle said, adding that the fire had crowned and jumped across the dyke.
“They had about 14 or 15 farmers out there that had went out and helped hold it through the night.”
Thursday, the operations team that was working the fire, as well as local producers, had started getting bulldozers together to come in and cut a firebreak. Producers had begun taking their own property, including water trucks and heavy equipment to extend the lines.
Lytle said it was during this day that Carrot River Fire and Rescue was called in to assist, setting up sprinklers and working to help teams prevent the fire from blowing from the forest and into the farmland. Carrot River teams stayed on scene until about 11 p.m.
“We went back the next day and just to clean up and help them finalize everything so that they had a nice firebreak,” he said. “We were fortunate enough by then that the Public Safety Agency was able to pull some of their cats that were on different fires that were finally contained to come and assist the local farmers in the area.”
It was while assisting with the fire break on Friday that the Carrot River department, along with many others in the region, received a call for assistance at Red Earth and Shoal Lake as well as on Highway 55, with the Bell fire moving into the areas.
Some of the other regional departments that responded included the Arborfield Fire Department, Zenon Park Fire Department and Lakeland & District Fire Department.
Carrot River Fire and Rescue split into two teams, with one sent to Shoal Lake with two trucks, and the second sent to Highway 55, patrolling the road for fire. Lytle was among the crews sent to Shoal Lake.
Firefighters were subbed out regularly over the weekend, with a separate crew left behind in Carrot River for local emergencies.
“Our job was to patrol the community,” Lytle said. “The community had been evacuated due to the smoke and risk of fire. There were a few people left, but very few, so we were there essentially to protect structures in the event sparks, embers or the fire got to that point so that someone was there to assist in keeping their homes from catching on fire.”
Thankfully, the Public Safety Agency would hold the fire, assisted by co-operation from the weather, meaning the two Carrot River teams would stay relatively action free for the duration of the trip, before being sent home at about 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Monday.
Lytle praised the efforts of the Public Safety Agency responders.
“We were pretty much just on standby to assist if the fire progressed, but the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, they were the ones who did all the work and did an amazing job holding it where it was and preventing it from reaching the communities.”
Looking back, Lytle said the last time he can recall the department responded to a fire of that size was the 2016 La Ronge wildfire.
“We have a very experienced crew, and I didn’t doubt for a second that any of our crew members were able to step-up to the task they were given.”
Lytle thanked the Public Safety Agency responders for their work, the communities, local businesses who donated food and supplies, Fire and Rescue members for responding, and their employers for patience.
“It was really a team effort from everyone involved to get it under control.”
Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Humboldt Journal