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Concordian Noah Larocque is working to control B.C. and Alberta wildfires

Protecting forests, wildlife and water sources is part of the biology student’s Co-op internship this summer
August 29, 2023

Diptych image: On the left, a young man seen from behind, sitting in a helicopter cockpit. On the right, a fire in a forest. Noah Larocque: “We are working 16 hours a day. It’s been insanely busy.” | Photos: BC Wildfire Service

As wildfires have burned in regions from coast to coast in Canada this summer, Concordia biology Co-op student Noah Larocque has been doing his part to reduce the devastation. Larocque is based in southeastern British Columbia, working with a team of wildfire suppression specialists to determine where wildfires will head next.

The team’s work is based on complex evaluations based on drought conditions, the level of flammability of the forest and the forest floor, the topography of the area and the wind direction and speed.

“We are working 16 hours a day, in a cycle of 14 days on and two days off. It’s been insanely busy, and the job encompasses a lot of things,” Larocque explains. “We’re working with incident management teams and environmental specialists, and every day we send the documentation to the government so that it can be used for the plans of the next workday.”

Based on the biological inspections, Larocque and his team work from a helicopter in close contact with ground crews. “We use drip torches or self-detonating flammable fireballs to burn off certain areas of the forest when the wind is in our favour,” he says.

These fires are lit to protect important resources including rivers, streams and drinking-water sources. The people on the ground spread water hoses throughout the forest to control the intentional fires.

‘An essential part of forest ecosystem maintenance’

The team is also responsible for tagging any dead trees that are home to burrowing woodpeckers, beetles and other insects. This identification process protects fragile populations of birds that come up through B.C. and roost during this season.

The trees need to be flagged because they pose a danger to ground crews, since they have a high risk of falling due to wind or fire.

In addition to this work, Larocque’s team is protecting water sources including creeks, lakes and rivers and drinking-water pumps from environmental contamination. Using chainsaws on the ground or scouting from a helicopter in the air, his team evaluates if water can be extracted from lakes in the area and what the impact will be on the fish population.

“What most people don’t realize is that wildfires are an essential part of forest ecosystem maintenance. But when wildfires spread out of control, they not only threaten our lives, they can also cause irreversible damage to the forest ecosystem,” explains Madoka Gray-Mitsumune, undergraduate program director and Co-op academic director for Concordia’s Department of Biology.

“The work of fire suppression specialists can determine whether there will be a healthy ecosystem for many years to come. Noah’s background in biology is crucial for understanding the forest ecosystem and managing the delicate balance between immediate human needs and the long-term protection of our environment.”

In 2022, Concordia made a
commitment to offer an experiential learning opportunity to every incoming undergraduate student. Learn more about Concordia’s experiential learning.

Learn more about the Concordia’s Institute of Co-operative Education and the experiential learning opportunities it offers.



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