1 August 2023

Canadian Wildfires: Fighting The Worst We’ve Ever Seen

With over 3,960 fires in 2023 so far, Canadian wildfires are becoming a concern for more and more people with every passing day. Over 10 million hectares of land have burned in Canada, surpassing the previous record set in 1995 by nearly 3 million hectares, and we’re only halfway through the year.

We thought it would be interesting to look at the many techniques the brave men and women use to fight these raging fires, and how an everyday citizen can help.

Fighting Canadian Wildfires

First, wildfire services have a priority list when fighting wildfires that helps them determine what is most important:

  1. Human life and safety is always the top priority.
  2. Property is the second priority.
  3. Next, they focus on areas with high environment value, such as watersheds and at risk habitats.
  4. Finally, they prioritize valuable resources, like timber harvesting or other resource extraction sites.

With priorities set, the firefighters can get to work deploying one of their many strategies. All the strategies below follow the basic principle of fire suppression: break the fire triangle by removing either oxygen, heat, or fuel.

Control Lines

Simply put, this is how they control where the fire will spread. They might clear out a tree line, lay down fire retardant, or scrape down the soil to the mineral layer. All of these can also be connected to natural control lines like a ridge or river, giving them a clearer sense of where the fire can spread.

Sometimes if moving quickly is incredibly essential, explosives are even used to break up dense areas or destroy large trees that might help a fire jump across a control line.

Burnout or Backburn

Sometimes it’s best to burn a small area in a control line before the larger fire ever reaches it. This ensures all the brush is gone and limits any possible fuel for the wildfire to use to jump the barrier. A

A backburn is just a more sophisticated version of a burnout where it’s pushed towards the main fire to consume fuel.


Firefighters will attack the fire from the already burned area and work their way around the perimeter. This technique is typically used for smaller wildfires.

Hotspotting and Knocking Down

Just like setting priorities for people and resources, hotspotting is giving extra attention to the most intense areas of the fire, or those most likely to spread.

If an area is deemed in need of immediate suppression, it is “knocked down”

Cold Trailing and Mop-Up

This is when firefighters comb through areas that have already been burned. They are looking for any embers or sparks that could blow around and cause a new fire to start.

Cold Trailing happens when the fire is still being fought, and mopping-up happens when the fire has been contained.

Aariel Attack

The one you’ve probably seen before. If a wildfire is near a large body of water, planes and helicopters can scoop up water and mix it with foam retardant. The water is then dumped over large areas of the wildfire.

Want to learn more about fighting wildfires? Don’t miss the latest episode of the Conquering Chaos And Mayhem Podcast!

This week’s episode welcomes someone who is an expert in safety consultancy, instructing, and volunteer response, President of Arctic Fire Safety Services Limited, Kris Liivam. Join host Darryl Culley as he picks Kris’ brain about the current wildfires affecting the entire country and why private fire fighting services could actually be the stronger, more reliable option, leaving public services to continue serving their own communities. “It’s really handy to be able to call up people who can grab their duffle bag, drive to the station, hop in the trucks, and have a three-hour response time.”