The Official magazine of Western Canada's Game Warden Associations
Summer 2011 Issue

Forest Fires & the Manitoba
Natural Resource Officer

One of the most enjoyable parts of being a Manitoba natural resource officer is not knowing
what you might be doing from one day to the next. Being a multi task agency, the NRO
looks after everything from conservation enforcement to problem wildlife, and wild fires.
Being a Manitoban, I saw the career of a Manitoba natural resource officer being the most
attractive to me as it was the most diverse job at the time and continues to be today.

ON A TYPICAL JUNE DAY, I started the day patrolling Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park located on the west shores of Lake Winnipeg within the Riverton district. The campgrounds and cottaging areas were starting to pick up and many families were heading out to open up their cottages or to get their tents and campers set up on what was a beautiful warm and sunny day. Recreational anglers were having great success fishing off the Hecla Harbor piers as they were catching nice sized walleyes.

    On our two-way radio system, I was picking up radio conversations from the east side of Lake Winnipeg. I had seen two of Manitoba's CL 215 water bombers leave Gimli earlier in the day to action a lightning strike fire north of Little Grand Rapids, a First Nations community approximately 250 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. The fire was proving to be difficult to control but luckily it was not threatening any communities or property values. While efforts were underway to control this fire, another fire sprang up only 17 kilometres east of the community of Berens River – a First Nations community on the east shore of Lake Winnipeg. Water bombers and several initial attack fire crews along with helicopter support were quickly deployed to the Berens River fire. As with most jurisdictions, Manitoba puts wild fire response priorities as life and property values first and natural resources second. With high winds and low humidity, the Berens River fire, which was detected around 3:30 in the afternoon, would grow to 3000 hectares by 9 p.m. the same night.


    The Eastern Region Fire Centre found they required additional resources to action this fire that posed a threat to the community of Berens River with a population of approximately 1500 residents.

    In response to their request to the Provincial Fire Center in Winnipeg, one of Manitoba's two incident management teams – Team Bravo, of which I am the incident commander, was deployed.

    So here I was, enjoying a warm sunny day in Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park and shortly after my arrival home, I received the call that my incident management team was deployed to the community of Berens River. I soon started making calls to several other natural resource officers and support staff that compromise Team Bravo. Officers from as far away as Thompson and Swan River made the eight to ten hour drive to the Eastern Region Fire Centre in Lac du Bonnet where we would be briefed by the fire control officer and the regional superintendant of Enforcement and Fire.

    It became very apparent to us that the western flank of the fire would be our
priority line of attack. Canadair CL-215 water bombers and single-engine air tankers would assist in preventing the spread of the fire to the west. For the first few days of our deployment to Berens River, the weather would greatly hamper our efforts as high winds, low humidity, and high temperatures would fuel and spread the fire. Fire behavior was classed as Rank Four and Five, meaning water bombing efforts on the front of the fire were of little effect.


    By the end of our third day on the fire, the fire had grown from 3400 hectares to 18,000. We were successful in limiting spread of the fire to the east as the fire spread to the north with strong southerly winds. With the efforts of 10 initial attack fire crews and eight emergency fire fighter crews along with several helicopters, we were able to hold our own on the west flank until mother nature brought us some much needed rain on day four. The rain was minimal but it was enough to bring the humidity up allowing for more effective suppression efforts on the north end rainfall stopped the spread of the fire and crews were quickly deployed to the north and east flanks to gain control of the fire. Though we fight fire aggressively, safety is our first priority and we never give consideration to resources before the safety of our fire fighters.


    Our incident management teams meet national standards. We are trained in the and we possess extensive backgrounds in wildfire suppression. Our incident management eight natural resource officers as well as SUMMER one or two others from the department. Over the past many years, Manitoba's incident management teams have been deployed throughout Canada and to some of the northern states to help their jurisdictions during times of extreme and complex wildfire incidents.


    Once the fire was considered as being held, I met with the eastern region managers and gave the fire back to the region as it no longer required the extra resources of an incident management team. After day 13 on the fire, we all returned to our families and back to our daily duties at our home districts.



Author: Geoffrey Smith. Geoff is a
member of the Manitoba Natural
Resource Officers Association



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