Memories of the Dogrib Fire October 2001.
By J. Marie Nylund

Rarely has drought been as serious or extensive as the drought of 1999-2004 that proved to be the worst drought for at least a hundred years in parts of the Canadian Prairies. The summer of 2001 at the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch was no exception. Scalp Creek was extremely low, only about 2 meters wide at the crossing on the Cascade Fire Road. The spring-fed creek that flowed through the pastures was almost completely dry. The evergreen trees were loaded heavily with cones that year, a survival mechanism of the evergreen trees to reproduce due to the drought risk of mature trees dying off.

There is never a dull moment at the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch and the events of September and October of 200l kept us in suspense. Although the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre did not happen at the ranch, it shook us to the core. In my journal I recorded the following: It is early morning; our usual routine involves scanning the flats below the buildings with our spotting scope looking for signs of wildlife activity, enjoying our morning coffee, and watching the news. It is 6:45 am DST – a shocking announcement – a Boeing 767 Jet has flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in New York City. At 7 am, a second Boeing 767 flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre. At 7:15 am a Boeing 757 jet flew into the west side of the Pentagon. A fourth jet crashed near Pittsburgh at 7:35 am. We stare at the tv in disbelief! An hour later, I watched in shock as the two towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed. This unfathomable event was on our minds for weeks to come.

Thursday, September 13th, 2001
Sunny morning. 0C. Cool at first but then it turned really nice out – +18C. After lunch Johnny and I saddled our horses and rode for an hour or so. Don Gorrie and trail crew are flying all the bridge and trail materials to the Sulphur Spring. Don Mickle and Rod Wallace rode out from Scotch Camp after a leaving from Jasper National Park on August 28th on a lengthy pack trip travelling historical routes from Jasper to Banff recording cultural resources that could still be found along these old trails. They had only heard about the Trade Centre terrorist attacks on the backcountry radio and were shocked to see the visual images of the attacks on our tv.

Thursday, September 27th, 2001 a cool air mass that has moved in. We are expecting Dave Norcross and his daughter Jamie, who are coming out from Banff to look after the ranch tomorrow while we attend a memorial service in Stavely for our friend retired Chief Park Warden Keith Foster. Dave and Jamie arrived in the late afternoon settled in. We left Friday morning and arrived home late that night.

Saturday, September 29th, 2001 we were back to our usual routine. John McKenzie and Hans Reisenleiter headed off to Scotch Camp on a fall patrol. Dave and Jamie saddled up their horses to search for a teepee ring on Scalp Creek flats that I had told them about. We sure appreciated Dave and Jamie’s help with the ranch while we were gone. Later, we noticed two quads off-roading on the ranch. We also noticed smoke visible south of the ranch buildings and it appeared that a fire has started up in the area of the Dogrib. Johnny contacted Banff Park dispatch to determine if the fire had anything to do with any prescribed burns in the Cascade valley.

Sunday, September 30th, 2001. Brian Low called early in the morning to confirm that there is another fire in the Dogrib that is not associated with the Cascade prescribed burn. Johnny and I saddled our horses and tracked the quads that were off-roading yesterday. We rode west on the old telephone line trail to a meadow and returned on the cutline. By this time, the fire seemed to be growing! The provincial initial attack crews were working on the fire.

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2001 -5C
Two hunters from Frank Raymond’s camp were chased last night by a sow grizzly and 2 cubs. They came up to our house to report the incident to Fish & Wildlife as this bear had actually chased them twice. Fish & Wildlife officers Jim Mitchell and Kevin Heppler came up from Sundre to speak to the hunters. They asked me to type up a Warning Notice to post throughout the campground to warn people of an aggressive sow and cubs. Al McDonald and Christine out from Scotch Camp.

Sunday, October 14th, 200l -5C
Cool day. Deryl and Glenda Thompson here working on the roof of the Quonset. A sow and 2 yearling cubs are feeding on the carcass of the horse (Holly) in the Mares’ Pasture this morning. The bears appeared again at 2:15 pm. Johnny gave Deryl and Glenda the binoculars so that they could view the bears from their vantage point on top of the Quonset. At 2:25 pm, while they were observing the bears, a loud “thunder-like” drawn-out rumble was heard. It seemed to come down the valley from the west. We were all a bit nervous as it was so soon after the terrorist attacks on September 11th and we could not help but wonder if it was a jet that had been taken down or crashed. I contacted the Banff Warden Office Dispatch and was informed that the loud noise was heard in Banff and Lake Louise and that they had their hands full with phone reports and inquiries. It is thought it was possibly a meteorite that produced a sonic boom. It could also be a mountainside that has collapsed. It turned out it was a meteorite that was estimated to have impacted earth somewhere about 25 kms east-northeast of Lake Louise.

Tuesday, October 16th, 2001.
It was 0C this morning. This day would prove to be quite an eventful day for Johnny and I. We were alone at the ranch. Beautiful warm and calm until around 10:30 am. The temperature had rapidly climbed to +20C, and then extreme winds fanned up the fire on the Dogrib.

 Dogrib Fire at 10 am October 16th, 2001
Dogrib Fire at 10 am October 16th, 2001. Photo by J. Marie Nylund
 Dogrib Fire at 3 pm, October 16th, 2001. Dogrib Fire at 3 pm, October 16th, 2001. Photo by J. Marie Nylund

Park wardens, Elaine O’Neill and David Oickle had been at Barrier Cabin and planned to ride to the Ya Ha Tinda over the Dogrib. Both being early risers, Johnny was concerned that they might be in the path of the fire. As it turned out, they had left the cabin later than usual and when Elaine and Dave arrived at the Corners they observed the fire and smoke and realizing they would not be able to get through they proceeded to ride out to the Panther Trail Head. Johnny had anticipated that they would make this decision and hooked onto the ranch trailer to go to pick them up. He was about to pull out when a yellow forestry helicopter landed and they informed him that the fire had swept the ranch road at the cut-blocks and that he would not be able to get out; the road was officially closed. As it turned out, Elaine and David made it safely to Gary and Sylvia Bracken’s guest cabins on the Panther River where they were assisted in evacuating to safety. Johnny’s brother George and nephew John, picked up the Park horses and took them to Sundre. Gary and Silvia Bracken kindly hosted Elaine and David overnight at their home north of Sundre.

Meanwhile, Randy Chisholm, Sharon Quesnel, Anne-Marie Buckwald and Kim ? rode out from Scotch Camp with 7 head of horses. Beth Chisholm and Gloria Sundbo were enroute to the ranch from Kootenay Park but could not get to the Ya Ha Tinda as the ranch road was closed by the time they arrived at the bridge over the Red Deer River. Beth and Gloria were bringing a wonderful supper and refreshments for all of us which we were all very much looking forward to. As it turned out, I managed to feed everyone with a roast beef supper after a raid on my deep freeze. After dark, we all had a spectacular view of the fire down the valley as the trees caught fire and candled. We were relieved when it started to rain by 9:30 pm.

 Smoke plume from Dogrib Fire Oct 16th, 2001.  3 pm
Smoke plume from Dogrib Fire Oct 16th, 2001. 3 pm.

October 17th, 2001 morning after a bit of rain and snow.
October 17th, 2001 morning after a bit of rain and snow.

Wednesday, October 17th, 2001
There was some welcome skiff of snow on the ground when we woke and a temperature of -3C. Not much but it might have helped with the fire. Randy, Sharon, Kim and Anna-Marie came over for breakfast. Lots of phone calls were coming in from the public, media and family as well as Parks Canada. A couple of hunters who were camped at the Bighorn Campground came up to use the phone to let their families know that they are fine. Ian Syme, Brian Low, Mary Dalman and Al McDonald flew out with pilot Kathy to check on the prescribed fire at Wigmore. Johnny and I were invited to join Ian Syme and pilot Kathy on a flight down the ranch road to the Red Deer River Ranger Station where we dropped of Elaine O’Neill’s duffle. The path of the fire is massive – it crossed from the Dogrib, Ribbons flats to Wolf Creek through the gap to the cut-blocks. Then, the fire burned north-northeast ward to James Pass and on to Blue Hill and in the general direction of Bearberry. We later learned that the lookout had to be evacuated by helicopter from the Blue Hill Lookout. I really enjoyed the flight. The ranch road was opened up temporarily and will be restricted to “ranch related” travel. Park wardens Elaine, David, Randy, Kim, Sharon, Gerry Israelson, his son and two others were able to leave and return to KYLL and Elk Island National Park at 3:30 pm. +5C high today.

Thursday, October 18th, 2001 0C
Cool and cloudy but quite windy today. I stayed near the phone all morning due to phone calls about the situation with the fire. After lunch, we drove to the first cut-block at the dry wash. There were lots of smoldering bush, brush and trees burning at the top of the ridge to the north. We noticed how badly the soil was burned. We found 15 head of cows (2 with bells) and calves that had come through the James Pass to get away from the fire. The cows were at the ranch gate and some at Frontier Town. We noted their brands and reported the cattle to Forestry so that they could alert the owners. The road from the Mountainaire Lodge to the Ya Ha Tinda is being controlled with vehicles allowed in at noon and at 6 pm. Doug Wellock was permitted to come in with 8 head of Jasper horses. Doug came over for a visit in the evening. He gave us an update on the road and his fire observations. +10 for a high today.

Friday, October 19th, 2001
Beautiful mild morning. The forecast is for 60% chance of snow. The fire is still out of control but contained within the perimeter. At this time, it is 11,000 hectares in size and is 15 km west of Bearberry this morning (40 kms west of Sundre). Brian Low faxed us an update as well as offered “firedogs” to be posted at the Ya Ha Tinda to protect the buildings. We, at present, are okay with no threat from the fire. We are still alone but have no concerns unless the wind should change direction and the velocity of the wind increases. Dave Foat tried to deliver hay but they turned him around at the Mountainaire Lodge. I baked cookies and stayed near the phone all morning. Tim Laboucane phoned to say he is coming out tomorrow.

Saturday, October 20, 2001 -5C
Beautiful sunny morning until around 8:30 am. Very heavy, dense smoke started to filter in on a southeast wind. Johnny alerted Brian Low. We gathered the horses to ready them in case we have to evacuate them by trailing them up the Red Deer River to Scotch Camp. At 12:30 pm, much to our relief, the wind reversed direction slowly moving the smoke out of the valley…just as I was getting a smoke headache! After lunch, with life getting somewhat back to normal, we rode to the campground and spoke with Outfitter, Edie Noble and her hunting guide. Scott Ward and A.L. Horton arrived with their horses. Tim Laboucane arrived by truck and trailer from Revelstoke/Glacier with 4 head of patrol horses to leave for the winter. They all came for supper and we enjoyed the camaraderie. The smoke moved in again in the evening. Today’s high was +15C.

Saturday, October 21, 2001 -5C
It is smoky but not as bad as yesterday. Scott Ward and A.L. Horton are off to Scotch Camp. Tim Laboucane headed back to Rev/Glacier at 11:30 am. Deryl and Glenda and one other person finished the tin on the roof of the Quonset. It just needs a ridge cap. I took quad and trailer with block salt to West Lakes for the patrol horses. Johnny and Rob who were moved the patrol horses to West Lakes. Jim Chesser, Kelley Fry and Doug Wellock arrived with 8 head. +15C again today.

Dogrib Fire – 3 pm, October 16th 2001. Photo by J. Marie Nylund.