Elders who left Fort Chipewyan because of wildfire smoke return home

A wildfire north of Fort Chipewyan offers lessons in logistics and communication when fighting a wildfire near an isolated community.

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The forest fire north of Fort Chipewyan was contained to the community, but the intensity of the smoke forced 35 elders to leave the community for a week. The fire may have saved Fort Chippewas, but the smoke was a reminder of the challenges faced during a wildfire in the isolated community.

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The elders were flown to Fort McMurray on Canada Day and returned home on July 12. Stay in a downtown hotel to be close to the Northern Lights Regional Health Center. McMurray Metis and the Golden Years Society entertain and cater to their needs.

“If the community is going to smoke, we have to find a way to get vulnerable people out of the community. We have people with COPD and we can’t risk their health if the smoke is strong,” Athabasca Chippewa First Nation (ACFN) Chief Alan Adam said in an interview Monday.

“Smoke can also be deadly. It makes people sick, it’s hard on the elderly and babies and children. Human life comes first.

The forest fire was detected on June 25 and was caused by lightning in the area. At the time of writing, he was about 21 kilometers north of Fort Chipewyan, but had been away from the community for the past two weeks.

Seven helicopters and 49 forest firefighters are assigned to the area, and the Fort Chipewyan Fire Department is ready to help if the fire approaches the community.

RMWB Deputy Fire Chief Darren Clarke said monitoring smoke and air quality is just as important as the location, direction and speed of wildfires.

“One of the triggers we’re looking at is if smoke is coming into the community,” said Clark, a Metis man who was born and raised in Fort Chipewyan.

On July 9, 2022, it arrived at Fort Chipewyan with fuel and equipment for firefighters fighting a wildfire north of the community.  Image courtesy of Megan Langpap/RMWB
On July 9, 2022, it arrived at Fort Chipewyan with fuel and equipment for firefighters fighting a wildfire north of the community. Image courtesy of Megan Langpap/RMWB

Regional Emergency Services (RES) will evacuate Fort Chipewyans in multiple aircraft if needed. People who go by private boats and ferries travel at a predetermined location. If a wildfire moves north into the community, a decision must be made quickly as Fort Chipewwan Airport is located 10 kilometers north of the community.

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The location of the fire also tested the logistics of fighting wildfires in the area. A boat was needed to bring fuel to Alberta’s forest vehicles and helicopters. He also took time to prepare spray equipment to protect houses occupied by hunters and trappers.

“We are grateful that the fire never came to the community because some of us had to stay behind to fight the fire and find a way to get more people and vulnerable people out,” Adam said.

“When a fire breaks out near a community that does not have an independent and universal weather system, the state must respond more quickly than to prevent the community from becoming a threat.

Councilman Kendrick Cardinal, president of the Fort Chippewan Metis Association, said planning for stress and panic is just as important as preparing for smoke and fire.

There are all these contributing factors to consider. “We need to ensure that the elderly of our society and anyone with respiratory problems are protected,” he said. But Fort Chipewyan is a strong and resilient community. When it comes time to help each other, they show their strength.


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