Troops trade camo for jumpsuits in forest fire battle
“Watch out for the widowmakers!”
The platoon commander shouts the warning to about 200 soldiers slogging their way through the dense brush, blackened trees and smouldering ash in the tiny First Nations community of Montreal Lake, about 250 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
A widowmaker is any large branch or treetop no longer attached to a trunk, but still tangled overhead, that could fall at any time.
“Obviously there's the danger of the ash pits and the big concern right now is the burned-out trees - any widowmakers,” says Master Cpl. Casey Zaharoff. “And obviously a flare-up.”
Casey is one of the hundreds of Canadian Forces personnel who have traded their camouflage duds for bright-orange firefighting jumpsuits to help beat back the flames in an unprecedented fire season.
For soldiers in northern Saskatchewan, for now, orange is the new green.
A handful of homes and cabins in the area have already been destroyed by fires.
The army was called in this week to help save the rest and get 10,000 people who have fled the smoke and flames back home. The help is sorely needed. Crews were holding protective lines around threatened communities Thursday, but Steve Roberts with Saskatchewan Wildfire Management said warm, dry conditions and shifting winds could cause more trouble spots.