New York forest rangers rushed to wildfire danger in Canada’s northern reaches

Rangers help battle wildfires in Nova-Scotia
New York rangers, including Adirondack veteran Art Perryman in red, spent two weeks helping to battle wildfires In Nova Scotia. Photo Courtesy State Department of Environmental Conservation

By Rick Karlin, Times Union

Confronting flames that could jump over a half-mile-wide lake, and based at a remote lodge 35 miles from the nearest paved road, seven state Forest Rangers recently spent two weeks joining the fight against a plague of wildfires raging across the drought-stricken northern Quebec wilderness.

Another had been in Nova Scotia where he headed a firefighting crew in that province.

They all contended with smoke, sweltering heat and blazes that, sounding like freight trains, at one point prompted a hasty retreat.

And they all said they were ready to go back if needed.

Four of the rangers on Monday sat down with reporters and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos in a Zoom meeting to talk about their experiences. After 17 days away, they returned to their usual patrol areas in New York, including the Adirondacks and Catskills last week.

“We were immersed in it for two solid weeks,” said Will Roberts, who normally patrols Chemung, Schuyler, and Seneca counties. He was joined in the conference by Chester Lunt, who patrols Cayuga, Cortland and Onondaga counties; Robert Praczkajlo, who covers Essex and Franklin counties including the Adirondacks, and Anastasia Allwine from Greene County including the Catskills.

After volunteering for the mission, they gathered in Saratoga County with firefighting gear and headed north to the Canadian border where they met up with other rangers and firefighters from New Hampshire and Maine. 

Before long they were in Maniwaki, Quebec, and then Val-d’Or, a small town about 510 miles north of Saratoga Springs (Quebec is a very large province).

Much of the time they spent using pumps and hoses to get water from the abundant lakes and ponds in the region to spray at the edges of the countless fires that were cropping up around them. 

The idea was to keep ground cover like moss and branches from catching fire from below. Above them, helicopters would dump buckets of water on the treetops.

At one point, the fire grew so quickly and came at them so fast, they had to be evacuated by helicopter, flying above what Allwine said was “an immense wall of flame.”

The biggest single blaze covered 16,000 acres and was a half-hour flight from their base camp.

For reference, Praczkajlo said, that blaze would be like the area between Lake Placid and Lake Clear in the Adirondacks, which is 28 miles by road.
Praczkajlo said that the fires moved along the ground, bursting up on trees when the opportunity presented itself. “The fire basically traveled in the moss and lower growth on the forest floor,” he said, then building up heat at the base of trees. 

If conditions are hot and dry enough — and they were in this spot — it would become what Praczkajlo said was a “crown fire” jumping from treetop to treetop.

Canadians they met and fought with were appreciative, said the rangers. “Their lives have been heavily impacted by smoke and air quality,” said Roberts, who added he was extra eager to help since he has relatives in Canada.

The Canadian hosts also figured out solutions to potential language problems — some spots in rural Quebec are primarily French-speaking. They were treated well: Praczkajlo said the food at the lodge where they stayed was better than what he usually prepared at home. They also had WiFi, despite the remote location.

Without some help from Mother Nature in the form of heavy rain, these fires may not abate anytime soon.

Overall Praczkajlo said, 4.5 million acres in northern Quebec’s protected wild forest areas are burning, as are another 2.5 million acres farther north, above the tree line.

“They have a very serious fire season on their hands,” he said.

While Quebec is north of New York, they have been stuck in a hot, windy weather pattern that was in place at the start of June when the fires started with lightning strikes.

New York rangers helped battle fires in Quebec for two weeks. Photo Courtesy of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Reader Interactions


  1. Boreas says

    Kudos to our firefighters and ALL helping to control the fires over our border. Much appreciated!! Hopefully sufficient rain will fall soon.

  2. louis curth says


    “TIME TO CHANGE HOW WE FIGHT WILDFIRES”, BY Toddi Steelman, 09/15/21. She raises some important points:

    * Conditions have changed. The way we fight wildfires must change, too.

    * Creating a new and more resilient path forward begins by acknowledging the ecological and social changes that have taken place in the landscape over the last half-century. Fires are larger, less predictable and more intense today; long-time first responders tell us they’ve never seen conditions like this before. Fire seasons last longer, creating a dangerous imbalance in the supply of and demand for firefighting resources, especially at peak times of the year. And more people are living in harm’s way as human development encroaches farther and farther into the wildland-urban interface. All of this complicates the already challenging conditions our wildland firefighters face.

    * Communities need to proactively reduce their risk factors and build greater capacity for resilience.
    This includes creating and maintaining defensible spaces, reducing hazardous fuels, revising building and construction codes, as well as working with first responders to set priorities for community protection and identify trigger points for community evacuation.

    * We need to recognize and more compassionately respond to the growing risks faced by wildland firefighters.
    Whether they are professionals or volunteers, the men and woman who battle wildfires today also battle extreme physical and mental stresses.

    * Injury, exhaustion and burn-out are increasingly likely as wildfires grow larger and more frequent and as fire seasons grow longer, leaving less time in between for recovery. Firefighters are blamed for not getting on fires fast enough or otherwise failing to meet unreasonable expectations.

    * The risk of fire fatalities looms large and, when tragedy strikes, it can trigger intense grief, frustration, guilt, rage and despair, as can recriminations from a public that increasingly blames firefighters when a fire can’t be controlled. It should come as no surprise that we now see rising rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression and suicide in the wildland firefighting community.

    * To reduce these stresses, federal and state agencies must hire more firefighters and provide them the resources they need — not just equipment, but also sufficient time-off and expanded professional counseling services — to do the job they are trained for and take such pride in.

    * At a time of unprecedented ecological change and an increasingly unstable climate, the costs associated with taking these actions and creating more resilient ecosystems, communities and firefighters are an investment in our future.

    (Toddi Steelman is president of the International Association of Wildland Fire and the Stanback Dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.)

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