While the summer of 2023 was particularly difficult for fire fighters and for Indigenous communities, what measures are being put in place to prepare this year? A brief overview of what is happening in the west of the country.

Firefighters walk on a forest trail near the Boundary Lake Fire, May 13, 2023.

The western provinces of the country will surely be affected by forest fires in 2023. (Archive photo)

Photo: Adam Buchanan/BC Wildfire

Whether in the Yukon, British Columbia, Quebec or Northern Ontario, the 2023 forest fire season will have left its mark with its intensity. Indigenous people across the country were particularly affected with nearly 4,500 evacuated.

And the 2024 season is already well underway. In British Columbia alone, in early May, the BC Wildfire identifies a little over a hundred fires, almost all of which are under control for the moment.

The Yukon is still spared for the moment, but the teams are already preparing. We have already had discussions with the chiefs and the government, because the communities told us they felt there was a lack of communicationexplains Nick Mauro, head of operations for the Yukon First Nations Wildfire (YFNW).

An aircraft and equipment with smoke from the Talbot Creek fire in the background.

The Talbot Creek Fire was just a few kilometers from the community of Mayo, Yukon, in August 2023. (File photo)

Photo: Government of Yukon

Communities would like to know what is happening, even if the fires do not directly threaten themhe continues.

Forest fire with smoke and flames near a river on May 15, 2023 in Hay River, Northwest Territories.

Lack of communication sometimes creates feelings of abandonment. The head of operations of the YFNW cites the example of the mining industry, which is very present in the territory.

Some of these communities are located near this mining industry. So there are resources that need to be diverted from the mining industry to the community or vice versa, depending on the urgency. And sometimes one side may feel like the resources that were sent to protect them are being taken away. It comes from a lack of understandinghe explains, adding that this leaves room for several preconceived ideas, or even the dissemination of false information.

Train Indigenous people

The challenges for communities are numerous, especially for those that are far from major centers and accessible by a single road or sometimes only by air. (There is a) lack of resources, in general, whether firefighters or air tankers to fight large firesdetails Mr. Mauro.

Aware of the problem on its territory, the BC Wildfire decided to position teams in strategic locations, so as to be able to access these areas more quickly.

In all provinces and territories, one of the main projects is training to increase the ranks of fire services.

There YFNW is working to train more firefighters locally.

In British Columbia, the BC Wildfire launched a boot camp program for aspiring Indigenous firefighters. They currently exist in different regions: that of the Chilcotin Plateau, on the west bank of the Fraser River, or that of Pembertonnext to Whistler.

BC Wildfire as firefighters”,”text”:”We train members of the local community and those who successfully meet all requirements are offered positions within BC Wildfire as firefighters”}}”>We train members of the local community and those who manage to meet all the requirements are offered positions within the BC Wildfire as firefightersexplains David MacKinnon, Indigenous relations analyst at the BC Wildfire.

Langis Chachai walks among the burned trees.

Many hunting camps were destroyed in indigenous territories. (Archive photo)

Photo: Courtesy: Pauline Chachai

This is not the agency’s first such initiatives. A program emerged in the late 1980s to train Indigenous people who then formed teams.

The Simpcw First Nation, in the Thompson region, has had its own fire unit since 2021, built around indigenous knowledge. This is an immense source of pride for Ron Lampreau, Simpcw Nation councilor and fire department chief.

Our model has become a source of inspiration at the provincial level for other communities.

A quote from Ron Lampreau, Simpcw Nation Councilor and Fire Department Chief
A firefighter raises her hand and holds a nozzle.

Several communities are launching programs to train members. (Archive photo)

Photo: Benjamin Jancewicz

The first attempt to set up this squad proved unsuccessful, but everything changed after the violent fires of 2021. Since then, the community has managed to have a brigade of four firefighters. days a week”,”text”:”We are now trying to form a second team so that the first can rest and thus offer a service 7 days a week”}}”>We are now trying to form a second team so that the first can rest and thus offer a service 7 days a weekexplains Mr. Lampreau.

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Divergent priorities

According to him, certain areas which may not have real value for the BC Wildfire have a lot for the First Nations. The idea of ​​creating indigenous firefighting units in communities allows them to act autonomously, according to their own priorities.

An area covered with dry brush and a part on fire in the background.

Indigenous communities are reviving the practice of cultural burning. (Archive photo)

Photo: Radio-United States / Delphine Jung

BC Wildfire over threelast few years, and they have great confidence in our team and know that we can get the job done. We still need indigenous knowledge, which is why First Nations are developing their own intervention objectives, which do not take away from the protection of lives, structures or otherwise”,”text”:” We have built a very good relationship with BC Wildfire over the last three years, and they have great confidence in our team and know we can get the job done. We still need Indigenous knowledge, which is why First Nations are developing their own intervention objectives, which do not take away from the protection of lives, structures or otherwise”}}”>We have established a very good relationship with the BC Wildfire over the last three years, and they have great confidence in our team and know we can get the job done. We still need indigenous knowledge, which is why First Nations are developing their own intervention objectives, which do not take away from the protection of lives, structures or otherwiseexplains Mr. Lampreau.

If a fire breaks out, Indigenous leaders can respond without the presence of BC wildfire servicessupports Mr. MacKinnon.

In the Yukon, a lot of work has been done to map the territory and places crucial to Indigenous people. Nick Mauro participated in this mapping in collaboration with the communities.

A plane disperses fire-fighting powder, in the foreground, a truck with a person in a firefighter uniform, in July 2023.

Resources in the Yukon are not high and often the territory must call on firefighters from neighboring provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta. (Archive photo)

Photo: Government of Yukon

We’ve made sure we know where the hunting cabins, lodges, cemeteries are located throughout the Yukon, so that when these big fires happen (firefighters) can go and protect themhe said.

For the same reasons, the BC Wildfire increasingly calls on cultural representatives. They have the power to speak on behalf of the community and express their concerns and priorities, said Mr. MacKinnon. The program launched in 2018-2019 and is expanding this year.

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Editor’s note)”,”text”:”This allows us to ensure that we are not missing elements such as a sensitive archaeological site or simply places in the territory that have special meaning (for Aboriginal people, Editor’s note)”}}”>This allows us to ensure that we are not missing things like a sensitive archaeological site or simply places on the land that have special meaning (for Indigenous people, Editor’s note)he adds.

With this in mind, the Simpcw firefighters are already working to meet members of the community. We organize an open day to show our equipment, we try to involve landowners, encourage them to clean up their yardexplains Ron Lampreau.

Mr. MacKinnon calls for an expansion of all programs that push for better collaboration with Indigenous people. I saw with my own eyes, in multiple situations, that these tools were used very effectively in 2023he said.

A solution recommended by all those interviewed is also the increase in traditional burning. For a long time, we considered that each fire had to be suppressed, extinguished, but that is not what we did before colonizationexplains Brandon Hoffman, director of community communications for Williams Lakein central British Columbia.

among others– to these major forest fires”,”text”:”This is precisely what led – among other things – to these major forest fires”}}”>This is precisely what led – among other things – to these major forest fireshe adds.

But he indicates that many non-Indigenous people still have strong preconceptions towards prescribed fires, particularly through ignorance. They come to question the authority of our department of natural resourcessays Mr. Hoffman.

Last year, Canada experienced the worst wildfire season on record. And according to federal government estimates, we risk being faced with another catastrophic season regarding forest fires.

In its weather outlook, Environment and Climate Change Canada expects drought conditions…in high-risk regions in May, including the northern Prairies and British Columbia.

The risks will remain as high for the remainder of the season, as the federal agency forecasts that temperatures will remain above normal nationally for spring and summer.

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