From about 1985 to 1997, I worked for the then provincial Department of Forestry in several positions, but the one I most enjoyed was the position of firefighter.
The department was structured whereby they had fire crews placed throughout the Labrador region (Upper Lake Melville, Labrador West and Cartwright); crews would travel to other Labrador communities on a need basis.
Although some days were very slow there were times when we had multiple fires burning at the same time; this made for very busy times. The crews from the management to the front line firefighters are quite amazing to watch - well organized almost to military precision. They are to be commended for their dedication to protecting our forest resources as well as our private property. They schedule fire ground crews (sometimes as many as 100s of people), water bombers, helicopters, supplies/equipment, fire trucks and communications. This is all done while constantly keeping the general public updated through local media. Thank you folks for a job well done.
However, sometimes they need a little help. They need us as citizens and users of the resource to be very cognizant of our surroundings when we are out to our cabins, fishing, camping and just enjoying this land we call the "Big Land."
Just for a moment, on an unrelated note, I am sure I speak for all of Labrador in thanking the late Winston White for coining and giving us that beautiful and appropriate phrase - The Big Land.
So, ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls, my recommendation and stance on this issue is: please use a little common sense while participating in whatever your favourite pastime is during the summer months during the fire season.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the forest fire season for the Labrador region specifically begins on May 15 and runs to Sept. 30. During this time a permit is required to burn brush and or clear land within 300 metres of a forest (meaning standing timber). These permits can be obtained at no cost from your local forest service branch office.
The lighting of fires for the purpose of cooking and camping does not require a permit. But again it is important to note and remember, we must all adhere to the forest fire regulations as officially proclaimed by the Department of Forestry. Because there are times when there maybe "No Fire" notices when temperatures and winds are high and make conditions extreme and high risk. They can be found on their web site (http;//www.nr.gov.nl.ca/forestry/forestfire/default.stm).
For those of us who are old enough to recall the television commercials depicting the once famous Smokey the Bear, and his message (based purely on common sense) which basically said, "Only you can prevent Wildfires."
The concept of Smokey the Bear was very successful and appealing to both young and old. It was originally conceived during the Second World War (1944) and used widely by the United States Forest Service. As its success grew so did its popularity and many other countries including Canada and Mexico adopted the Smokey the Bear concept and message.
So I will be bold enough to suggest to you, while you are out participating in your extra-curricular outdoor activities, remember to use common sense and follow the rules, especially if you are having a campfire.
Remember the following basic things and I can assure you, we will have a safer summer: ensure you have access to sufficient amounts of water to extinguish a possible fire; never leave a fire unattended; have some firefighting tools handy such as a round-top shovel, rake and axe just in case; and finally, but most importantly, never light any fire when the temperatures and wind are high and conditions are extreme for risk.
If for some unfortunate reason you find yourself in a situation where there is a forest fire or you witness a forest fire, please use the Department of Forestry's public toll free number (1-866-709-3473) to report the incident. Wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable summer!
- Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org