FORT LIARD, N.W.T. – A firefighter has died while battling a wildfire near his home community in the Northwest Territories, marking the second time in only a few days a Canadian firefighter was killed on the job during a record-setting national wildfire season.
The territorial government issued a statement saying the firefighter from Fort Liard, a hamlet north of the British Columbia boundary, died from an injury sustained while battling a nearby blaze on Saturday afternoon.
Wildfire Information Officer Jessica Davey-Quantick said the firefighter was involved in combatting a fire that started July 7 in the Fort Liard District and is currently about 26 kilometres southeast of the hamlet.
She said no other information about the firefighter will be provided until family members have been notified. The RCMP and Coroner’s Office have been contacted, the territory noted.
Fort Liard Mayor Genevieve McLeod said word started circulating in the community late Saturday afternoon that there had been an accident. At first, it was only thought that someone had been hurt and there was no word who it was.
“A big part of the community went to the airport to meet the helicopter,” McLeod said in a phone interview.
“They brought the individuals in from the forest fire they were fighting and that’s when everyone found out.”
McLeod, too, didn’t want to identify the firefighter who died, noting he had a large family and that some, who lived in the south, might not have heard the devastating news yet.
“He was a big part of our community — young and hard working. He has a young family,” she said.
The firefighter’s death comes just three days after another Canadian was killed while battling wildfires. Devyn Gale died Thursday after a tree fell on her near Revelstoke, B.C.
RCMP have said the 19-year-old’s team lost contact with her before finding her. Her death is now under investigation by police, the BC Coroners Service, WorkSafeBC, and the BC Wildfire Service, Mounties said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted he was “incredibly saddened” by the death of another firefighter.
“To their family, their friends, and those they were heroically serving alongside: Canadians are keeping you in our thoughts. We’re here for you,” Trudeau said Sunday on Twitter.
The fire near Fort Liard, which is listed on the territory’s wildfire update website as being caused by lightning and about 0.1 square kilometres in size, is not currently a threat to the hamlet.
“I want to send my deepest condolences to all those affected by this tragedy,” Shane Thompson, the territory’s environment minister and the area’s legislature member, said in a tweet Sunday.
“Firefighters across the territory have my utmost respect for their continued efforts to protect our homes and our communities while facing such extreme conditions.”
Thompson also called the tragedy “an unimaginable loss” for the people who knew the firefighter, as well as “a tremendous loss for the community.”
The Northwest Territories wildfire agency said there were 89 active wildfires burning across the territory as of Saturday night.
This year so far, over 8,000 square kilometres in the territory have burned. Across Canada, figures from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre shows more than 100,000 square kilometres have been scorched this season, an area roughly the size of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and Lake Michigan combined.
Davey-Quantick said there’s a lot of sharing of firefighters between provinces and territories in a typical season, but this year has been different because so many fires have been burning across Canada.
“Most of our crews are predominantly local. A lot of them are actually fighting fires outside their own communities,” Davey-Quantick said, noting the territory provides a lot of training.
“There’s a huge amount of respect for firefighters because we know they’re protecting our communities, and they’re protecting and keeping us safe.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2023.
— By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton