Quebec firefighters sent to California as reinforcements confronted “a monster” in the Plumas National Forest, where they worked tirelessly to slow down an unprecedented forest fire.
Bear Fire. “> An American firefighter walks past the ruins of a house razed to the ground by the flames of Bear Fire .
Long working days in rough terrain, temperatures exceeding 40 degrees and ash rain: the forest firefighter Julien Brault is not about to forget his fight against a forest fire called Bear Fire .
At 31, the one who lives in Chibougamau nevertheless acts as a young veteran with nine years of experience and nearly ten missions abroad, including one in Australia last winter.
” A monster “
All his baggage did not prevent him from returning marked by his two-week stay in the Californian forest. It's “unheard of,” he says bluntly, while another team of twenty Quebecers left to lend a hand to their American colleagues earlier this week.
He will long remember a day when the crew was working near the Little Grass Valley Reservoir and the nearby fire got out of hand. “The winds picked up around 10 am and the fire turned into a monster. We had to leave the place quickly, ”he recalls in a telephone interview with Le Journal , while he is confined in the company of his colleagues while awaiting the results of the COVID tests.
On leaving, they crossed the small municipality of Oroville where an apocalyptic setting was offered to them. “It was filled with smoke. There was a constant ash rain. The sky was orange. It was a very special vision. We could see that there was a certain distress among people, ”he recalls.
A sign that the blaze they fought was nothing normal, several specialists in fire behavior in the field told him that they had never seen anything like it. “For them, it was something absolutely exceptional, [fires with] violent behavior.”
One of the tasks of the Quebec sappers was to dig trenches.
Used to having easy access to water to do their work in Quebec, Mr. Brault and his team members also had to swap the hoses for hand tools. In particular, they dug innumerable trenches to slow down the spread of the blaze.
“We went to intervene directly in places that were burning. With chainsaws, we try to cut the fuel around [the fire], the brush, the small shrubs. We clean and with manual tools, we intervene to cut the ground ”.
Make a difference
Even if the work experience has been quite brutal, Mr. Brault assures that he is already ready to leave if the United States asks again for Canadian help.
“There is a bit of a pleasure in living these long days, in forcing and being satisfied with your work. We feel that we have really made a difference ”. Considering the scale of the fires that are still raging, his work may be welcome again soon.