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West Nipissing Councillor Rolly Larabie of River Valley (white checked shirt) welcomed Wildfire Initial Attack and Rappel teams from both Alberta and British Columbia last Friday, July 13, as they joined other inter-provincial crews on site. The Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services branch of the MNRF has established an encampment on the lands beside the church in River Valley to accommodate the newly arrived personnel. The ground crews will be fighting fires throughout the region, and will be rotated with other crews as the summer progresses. Shown in the photos are teams from Alberta (in yellow shirts) and British Columbia (both in red and tan shirts). A complete fire ban in West Nipissing remains in place and offences will be fined under provincial statute rather than municipal bylaws.

Crews set up camp in River Valley to manage area forest fires

by Isabel Mosseler

The fire situation north of River Valley may have calmed down somewhat over recent days – having gone from a high of 67 active forest fires on July 11, to 44 fires reported on July 16 by the Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES), but fire fighting crews are firmly entrenched in an encampment in River Valley and they are here for the long haul.

Municipal councillor Rolly Larabie of River Valley was walking through the site last Friday to welcome fire fighters arriving from British Columbia and Alberta, and happened to go into one of the trailers that houses the kitchen facilities. “Wow! The guy inside told me it’s a $2-million dollar kitchen!” The set-up is indeed impressive, with rows of sleeping quarters, the mobile kitchen, laundry rooms, padded grounds, Quonset-type shelters and other mobile amenities.

Shayne McCool, Fire Information Officer for the Northeast Fire Region, explained the camp at the old convent grounds beside St. Rose de Lima Church will be home to the crews for some time. “It is quite the operation. We put that infrastructure in place for long term situations in the event we will have to have the fire fighters there all summer – (…) it’s something we do when we get escalated for the types of situations we are seeing in River Valley.”

While the camp is exciting to see, the reason it’s there is not such happy news, as it means fire may remain a threat for some time still. “There’s no way to tell for sure how long they will be there… Our fire fighters will continue to make progress on those fires but weather conditions will dictate how long they remain there. If it’s hot and dry, we’ll have to stay there longer. If we have weather conditions that come and aid our fire suppression efforts, then it could be a shorter duration,” said McCool.

Either way, the people of River Valley are welcoming crews from across Canada with open arms, exerting the kind of friendliness and warmth that has made Larabie exceptionally proud of his community members. He says the encampment has alleviated fears. “This is major with a fire like that, people were edgy, but we were telling them this is a key card for us, this is safety – they wouldn’t set up in the middle of the fire.”

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