A close call near Waswanipi after dump fire spreads

·3 min read
Local Waswanipi fire captain Frank Dixon says they are called to put out about 15 dump fires a year at the local dump located just 15 kilometres away from the community. Yesterday was the first time he saw one ignite a forest fire.  (Submitted by Frank Dixon - image credit)
Local Waswanipi fire captain Frank Dixon says they are called to put out about 15 dump fires a year at the local dump located just 15 kilometres away from the community. Yesterday was the first time he saw one ignite a forest fire. (Submitted by Frank Dixon - image credit)

A fire at a municipal dump next to the northern Quebec Cree community of Waswanipi had the potential to cause a serious emergency yesterday after it spread to a nearby forest.

Just before 5 p.m. Monday, local firefighters were called to the municipal dump just 15 kilometres north of the community of 2,000, located about 750 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

They arrived to see the fire had just started spreading to the surrounding forest.

"I was really surprised how fast the fire was traveling in the brush," said Waswanipi fire captain, Frank Dixon, adding the weather conditions were hot and dry and there were strong winds.

Dump fires happen about 15 times a year, said Dixon, but this was the first time he'd seen one spread into the forest.

"We were scared it was going to create a bigger forest fire."

We were scared it was going to create a bigger forest fire. - Frank Dixon, Waswanipi fire captain

With the Waswanipi dump located just 15 kilometres north of the community, if the fire got away from them, it could have been a real disaster, said Dixon.

"It would have [gone] out of control because it's all dry. The snow melted very fast ... and the winds are very heavy," said Dixon, adding they also notified SOPFEU, Quebec's forest fire prevention organization.

Frank Dixon is the fire captain at the Waswanipi Fire Department. He and four crew members managed to extinguish a fire that spread from the dump to the forest Monday late afternoon.
Frank Dixon is the fire captain at the Waswanipi Fire Department. He and four crew members managed to extinguish a fire that spread from the dump to the forest Monday late afternoon.(Submitted by Frank Dixon)

After working for three hours and digging a wide trench ahead of the fire, the local fire crew managed to contain and then extinguish it.

Springtime a 'vulnerable' time for forest fires

The fire was a close call — and a reminder how dangerous the conditions are at this time of year.

Mélanie Morin is a fire prevention and communications officer with SOPFEU. She said spring is the most vulnerable time of year for forest fires.

"A heatwave in the middle of July is much less concerning than this time of year. This time of year we've got dry, dead grass and woody debris … things can light up quite quickly," said Morin.

Mélanie Morin is a fire prevention and communications officer with SOPFEU.
Mélanie Morin is a fire prevention and communications officer with SOPFEU.(SOPFEU)

While there is no provincial fire ban in place at the moment, Morin said the fire risk has been high or extremely high in many parts of the province for the last seven to 10 days. She advises people to check fire bans with their local municipality and never leave a fire unattended.

"This is the time of year we ask people to be quite conscious of their fire use ... whether they are burning things outside if they are smoking near the forest," said Morin.

Dixon said he hopes the close call will make people think before setting a fire at the dump.

"Dump fires are hard to fight," said Dixon, adding they also leave the community without a full fire crew, should an emergency happen in town.

"Please stop making [dump].fires, because you don't know how much it drains us out physically and mentally," said Dixon.

"It's very hard work.... They're also toxic. It might create a forest fire, which it did yesterday."