A crew of four Yellowknife firefighters back from fighting the Hay River landfill fire say they are impressed with the community spirit and professionalism they witnessed.
Adam Chartrand, Christian Bittrolff, Mitch Stehr and Justin Zawyrucha were sent to assist the Hay River Fire Department in putting out a blaze burning at the dump since March 3rd. On the day they arrived Mackenzie Place caught fire, prompting the evacuation of 135 residents.
“When the Mackenzie fire came in, our phones started ringing with people from Yellowknife saying ‘Hey, are you guys at this?’ Bittrolff says. “We went down because we were worried there wasn’t enough staffing, they’d been fighting the dump fire for two weeks…But they came out in droves and Hay River fire handled that fire quite well.”
Zawyrucha says it was impressive, seeing local firefighters contain the fire in the 11th-floor apartment it originated in. The Yellowknife crew were struck by the dedication of the volunteer firefighters, who all took time away from their day jobs. “They’re sacrificing a ton of time and energy to fight that fire,” Zawyrucha says.
“The community is so welcoming and helpful,” Chartrand says. The Yellowknife crew were put up in housing supplied by Northwest Territories Power Corporation, given rides by random strangers and provided with more than enough food.
“In all honesty that’s one of the things that make you proud of being in the North. The whole community came together,” Bittrolff adds.
The role of the Yellowknife crew was to give Hay River crews a break, some of whom had been working on the dump fire for 22-hour days. They had experience fighting landfill fires in Yellowknife, but not to the magnitude of what Hay River was facing.
Bittrolff says the crew worked methodically – digging down 65 feet to get to where the garbage was burning, pulling it out and extinguishing it. Excavator crews worked 24 hours a day, taking the lead on digging out burning debris. Despite the labour intensive process, the Yellowknife group agree working with local firefighters went seamlessly.
Fire chief John Fredericks says a second crew of four is in Hay River now, they will likely be the last sent down.