Finally home after 2 months up north doing various things! As Captain Willard says in the opening scene in Apocalypse Now, “Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one.” When I heard from a mill rep about a burning project, I made some inquiries and got the project with a friend of mine. I was pretty excited to bomb around the north leaving nothing but a trail of ATV fumes and a scorched earth!
Let me back up a little. As part of its forest management obligations, the logging company has to get rid of the waste wood that gets cut but not hauled to the mill. This waste wood is deemed a serious fire hazard so in the winter it is safely burned off. To do this, we outfitted our quads with propane based “flamethrowers.” In the picture below, you can see my rig with propane tank winched onto the quad. Working in extreme temperatures creates many problems though. It was so cold that the propane was freezing in the torch and shooting out in liquified form, igniting in unexpected fireballs. Keeping machines working in sub -30 temps also presents challenges. With giant mitts and bulky clothing, doing the slightest tasks become difficult. Something as simple as pulling out a map to navigate becomes difficult. Even eating and drinking are difficult when food, drink and fingers freeze so quickly. Driving quads in old cutblocks covered with drifted snow is definitely the bonus level in technical quad driving! Underneath the snow are logs, stumps, creeks and a million other things to imprison your quad on. Getting quads unstuck is brutal at the best of times but in the winter it is at least so ruthlessly frustrating that it’s almost funny.
On one particular day, we had plowed our quads across the frozen muskeg to a set of distant blocks. The mill had thought that it was impossible to quad around due to the massive snowfall but we held our ATV skills in high regard and did the work anyway. Unfortunately, halfway through the day, the snow had packed up around the motor and shorted out the electrics. So there we were, really, really far away from the world with a 700 pound block of iron. By winching onto the good quad, we could just barely tow it through the snowbanks, provided we pushed. Then we would get stuck and have to undo the winch, push the good quad forward, rewinch the bad quad over the obstacle and get our mechanical dogsled train going again. By the time we got back to the road it was pretty late and had a 2 hour drive back to town and try to fix or procure another ATV. With little luck on either front, the guy at the Slave Lake Honda dealership actually lent us his own ATV to keep working and we only missed a few hours of work the next day.
picture below is typical of our ATV routes into the wild lands. In this case, an old pipeline as seen from the iceroad where we parked the 4×4.
One of our areas surrounded some gas infrastructure of some description. Before we could burn it we had to sort things out with Connacher Oil to ensure that they had shut things off and disabled some sensors that do something in case of fire. After getting it all sorted out, we burned it and upon returning to the ice road we found a note in the truck. A note seemed weird this far out in the middle of nowhere. It said ” hey guys, thanks for not blowing up the plant!”
As difficult as the work was, every day offered us surreal sights. It was too cold for my camera most days so I have few pictures of the beautiful combinations of flames, smoke, snowstorms, sun and forest. Some moments of this contract will be vividly imprinted on my brain, though they were paid for dearly!
above: burning in the morning
below: burning in the evening
here’s a short vid I made showing an idealized fire start