Armed with shovels, axes and tennis shoes, residents put out Prelude Lake fire

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Shortly after lightning struck on or near a Northwestel tower at Prelude Lake Thursday afternoon, Dan Hosfeld says he saw smoke coming from the area.

A resident of the area where several off-grid cabins stand, Hosfeld went to investigate the smoke armed solely with a fire extinguisher. When he saw a fire burning close to 400 metres from his house, Hosfeld called the RCMP and Yellowknife Fire Division who told him they would relay the message to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources who are in charge of wildfires.

In just over an hour, four people worked to put out a lightning-caused fire at Prelude Lake. Dan Hosfeld photo

Hosfeld says he doesn’t have much firefighting experience but didn’t hesitate to act as he wasn’t sure if or when help would arrive. “Especially with the whole High Level situation recently, that’s in the back of your mind,” he says. “We don’t have many options out here so we thought well, we’ll at least try to do what we can do. So we went out with shovels and an axe, trying to stomp out the fire.”

Dan, his brother Mike, his nephew Jerod and friend of Jerod’s Chris St. Amand worked to put out the blaze. They used shovels to dig out and flip over mossy areas on fire and cut down branches using an axe, creating a kind of fire break to prevent the fire from spreading.

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Within an hour and 15 minutes the fire was close to being out. It began to rain so the four figured it was safe enough to leave the area. Manager of fire operations Richard Olsen says an aircraft, followed by a four-person crew of wildfire fighters arrived on scene around 3 p.m. after receiving a report at 2:30 p.m. After the crew dug out and worked on some smouldering spots, the fire less than a hectare in size is under control and close to being declared out.

All the civilians who fought the fire are safe Hosfeld says, adding they will need to buy some new tennis shoes after using their shoes to stomp the fire out.

“They really went above what we would normally expect for people, well above in terms of seeing that there was a risk and doing something about it,” Olsen says, adding people who come across a fire that might present a safety concern to put their safety first. “Under really dry conditions or really windy conditions, fires in those areas can get up into the trees and move very, very quickly.”

The territory is into the phase of the summer wildfire season where thunderclouds, scattered rain and lightning could cause fires anywhere. “They can occur at any time and any place,” Olsen says of lightning-cause fires.  

To report a fire, and this is an emergency line only, call 1-877-NWT-FIRE (698-3473). Residents can call 1-867-445-5484 to access information about wildfires in the territory.

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