On May 20, the Waswanipi Fire Department was alerted to a fire started by local youths that left around 10 hectares of destruction before water bombers were able to put the blaze out.
When emergency services arrived at the fire, the intense winds fanned the flames to heights of around 20 metres, soaring above the treetops. The proximity of the fire to the community, just a stone’s throw from the local Band Office, required that most of the town be evacuated during the firefighting.
Interim Fire Chief Leroy Blacksmith said, “The fire was being pushed by the wind into the woods so we acted to contain the fire and to assist La Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU) when they arrived with the bombers.”
The fire was controlled for the most part but the following day when the winds picked up the water bombers had to be called in again. It took around three days to fully put the fire out, although the smell will linger in the area for a while.
With the summer here and the increased risk of fires, Blacksmith urges people to keep their matches and lighters far out of reach of children. Many of the fires in the area are started by young people ages 10-15 and with fire prevention month being October, the youth need to be reminded of the dangers and destruction that can come from playing with fire.
At the Willie J.Happyjack Memorial School, students were abuzz when they returned to school after the danger subsided. With water bombers swooping around and helicopters whizzing about, it created the impression of a war zone.
When the excitement died down, the finger pointing started, with the perpetrators being called out by other students. Maya, a Grade 2 student at the school, had a message for the problem students, “Please stop lighting the fires.” Many of the younger students were left confused by the incident.
Maya’s teacher, Annette Neeposh, said, “It’s a shame because the fire was entirely preventable.”
In the weeks leading up to the forest fire, there were three incidents of attempted arson by young children at the local park. The feeling is the children are doing this out of boredom, which can be easily prevented.
During the times when members of the Fire Department visit the school, Leroy said they are having a hard time getting the children to connect with the message. But that wasn’t always the case, two years ago the department had a mascot, Sparky the dog. Leroy said, “The kids really loved Sparky and he helped get the message across.” Neeposh confirmed that, “The children miss Sparky – they need a new one.”
Fire is a danger that if not prevented has the potential of destroying everything in an area. During the summer months, it is imperative that parents think about fire prevention, instead of relying on the school’s annual fire-safety seminar. They should check their children’s pockets for lighters and matches so as to help reduce the potential of starting fires just for fun or out of boredom.