Friday, June 3, 2011

Forest Fires and Rolling Black Clouds of Death



The above photo was taken about a week ago from around our Thickwood neighborhood and gives you an idea of the smoke from local forest fires can blot out the sun. The photo doesn't quite do it justice though and the sun was actually been a weird pinkish colour from time to time. Though it may look like an evening photo, it was actually taken mid-afternoonish. The latest information I've seen is that the fire (referred to now as the Richardson backcountry fire) is about 65 km north of town and still raging out of control, having now consumed something in the neighbourhood of 360 000 hectares.

The past few days haven't been quite as bad, though I heard it mentioned that ash was seen falling in across the river in Abasand and we had a little bit of fine ash falling here in Thickwood here late this afternoon. (Initially it looked like snow to me as the temperature was quite a bit cooler than yesterday...a good 20 degrees colder with a wind chill of -2 this morning.) Last week, we had a few pretty nasty days with lots of smoke out at site and I had quite the sore throat last weekend though thankfully I'm all mended now.

Yesterday, while we didn't have to deal with smoke or ash out at site, we did experience rolling black clouds which again blotted out the sun. It was just like out of a sci-fi thriller. Late in the afternoon, the wind really kicked up a notch and shortly before quiting time I noticed a black haze in the distance. Now, this by itself is no big deal. A short walk from where I work is the "coke road" which leads up over a hill to the coke pits on the other side. This area is separated from the rest of the plant by a giant earthen dike to prevent excess coke dust from blowing in our direction. (Coke dust isn't something you really want to mess around with.) Anyhow, there are times, particularly in the summer when the wind will pick up, sending clouds of coke dust, regular dust and any other light particulate the wind may catch over the dike. This is what happened.

I noticed a puff of black as I mentioned earlier along with dust from a nearby dirt road heading in our general direction. The wind really kicked up as clouds were moving in and I decided to duck inside our warm up shack. Within seconds the entire scaffolding yard was obliterated from sight. The horizon, buildings, trucks, forklifts, gear out in the yard....it all disappeared from view. Without sounding overly dramatic, you really couldn't see ten feet in front of you. I held the door open for a few fellow workers as they came rushing in out of the tempest. While I had seen something the day before while down in another yard. This was pretty crazy stuff and it lasted several minutes before the winds died down and it started to clear up. By then it was pretty close to the end of the work shift so we called it a day and changed for the bus ride home.

Fires, smoke, black choking dust, hot days followed immediately after by late fall-like weather with frost advisories.....it's turning into what could be a very interesting summer here.