Meet the crew: life in a forest fire team

This year marks the worst forest fire season Northern Ontario has seen in fifty years, with over 630 thousand hectares of forest burnt in the province. To protect northern communities, logging and mining operations and private properties from the flames, thousands of firefighters from across the country are dispatched to control the spread of the fires. With some 700 wildfires buring across Northern Ontario, fire crews wear the efforts of the long, hard summer on their faces. The faces of fire is a photo essay detailing the lives of one crew of Ontario Fire Rangers as they work to control a wildfire code named, Red 84.

Hundreds of fire fighters from across the country battle Ontario blazes

Fighting forest fires in Northern Ontario 5:03

Hundreds of people from all across Canada are helping Ontario fire crews as that province battles the worst forest fire season in years.

This year has been the worst season for forest fires in Ontario in 50 years. The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) said 630,000 hectares of forest have been torched this summer – an area larger than Prince Edward Island.

The Ontario Fire Rangers – a 125-year-old organization – are leading the fight against the fires, but they’re getting help from hundreds of firefighters from across the country. Firefighters work in four-person crews and are often dispatched to remote stretches of woods for two weeks or longer.

"It’s like a war," said veteran firefighter John Wylie. "But, luckily enough in this job, the enemy is not shooting back."

Wylie, who has worked for the B.C. Forest Service for 29 years, is helping battle a fire known as Red Lake 84, about 350 km northwest of Thunder Bay.

"It was a bit of a sleeping giant," he said, but since the blaze flared up "we're back in to what we'd call a Rank 3 to 5 fire, which is open flame ... torching or crowning of the trees."

Red Lake 84 is just one of dozens of fires burning in Northern Ontario, some of which are hundreds of hectares in size and travel quickly. While forest fires are a natural event in Northern Ontario’s Boreal forest, some fires must be reined in when they come close to communities, infrastructure or other properties the MNR deems valuable. Stopping them, however, is a massive challenge.

Northern Ontario’s forest fire season is expected to last until October, when colder temperatures bring relief to the scorched area. Most of the firefighters will continue their work until then.

The Faces of the Fire is a series of portraits of one crew of fire rangers and some of their colleagues that were captured as they fought against Red Lake 84.

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