Fires in extreme winter weather create challenges for first responders

Just getting to the scene of a fire can be difficult when there are blizzard conditions, says a Prince Edward Island fire chief.

'You've got members icing up themselves, getting getting very cold, getting very wet'

Rod MacDonald, fire chief of the East River fire department, said winter conditions like unplowed roads delay their response time. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Atlantic Canadian fire crews have been fighting fires under extreme winter weather conditions over the weekend.

On Sunday, firefighters and police responded to a house fire in Mermaid, P.E.I., which left a man homeless, RCMP Cpl. Chris Gunn said.

A section of route 21 was closed for about an hour as first responders battled to get the fire under control. 

That fire was one of several in the Atlantic region where snow, high winds and rain made fire fighting even more difficult for first responders.

'Getting very cold, getting very wet'

East River fire chief Rod MacDonald said just getting to a fire site Friday was difficult.

The Atlantic Red Cross has already responded to 25 fires in the region over the past two weeks. (Wellington Volunteer Fire Department)

"The roads weren't even plowed," he said.

That was just one of the challenges firefighters are dealing with this winter, he said.

"You've got water spilling all over the road. You've got ice conditions. You've got members icing up themselves, getting getting very cold, getting very wet," he said.

Increased expenses

Dan Bedell, the communication director for the Atlantic Red Cross, said winter is when they receive the most requests for assistance.

"We've already responded to 25 different calls in the past two weeks," said Bedell.

This is the time of year when the organization spends the most money supporting victims of fire, he said.

"If they have left their home or apartment with just what they're wearing in the middle of winter, they may need replacement winter coats and boots and those costs can add up fairly quickly," said Bedell. 

Bedell said the cost of assistance can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per person.