Rain, rain, don't go away

Michael Johansen
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A man’s voice came out of the dark, but I couldn’t see his face past a pair of glaring headlights. I only saw it was Edward when he came up to the steps where I was sheltering under the overhang of a roof. His hair was dripping wet.

“The rain,” he said. “You should write next about the rain — how everybody loves that it’s raining.”

Edward was not exaggerating. Just two days before, there’d been no rain mentioned in the forecasts — none except what a few wandering thunderclouds might happen to drop. The whole young summer looked like it was going to be desert-dry.

This was a disturbing, if not downright terrifying prospect for everyone in Labrador. On the day before the wet forecast, there were more than 60 forest fires burning throughout central and eastern parts of the region and more were expected to break out everywhere. Two major communities were already in a state of mandatory evacuation and others were on alert.

Firefighters in flight and ground crews were being pushed to the limits of their endurance. Additional personnel and equipment were sent in daily, but there could never be enough to tackle more than just the few most dangerous blazes.

 Still, the winds blew and the big sky dried up. Far away, we could hear thunder as new fires were planted. Central Labrador was in turmoil, with Happy Valley-Goose Bay inundated by up to 2,000 evacuees. Emotions flared as high as the column of smoke growing beside Grand Lake. Wild talk ensued.

“Labrador burns every 300 years,” I heard it said, “and this is the year!”

 The prediction was that a whole bunch of relatively small remote fires, stoked continuously by frequent lightning strikes, could join together to make larger and larger fires until one humongous one was left to sweep through the entire forest. The endlessly dry forecast made it almost seem like a real possibility.

Memories of earlier forest fires either calmed or inflated worries. Many people in Sheshatshiu and North West River remember once before seeking refuge in Happy Valley-Goose Bay when smoke choked their communities and flames threatened their homes. It was a worse time then, they said, because the fire was bigger and closer, but they got through it — literally. Many had to flee between two walls of flames after the blaze leaped their only road to safety.

So, not everyone was predicting the end of the world, but even the optimistic were anticipating a long, hot, weary summer of smoke and flames.

And then, suddenly, the forecast changed and the forecasters started talking about rain — not just a little rain, but rain, rain, rain and rain: at least four days of it. Naturally few believed it, but sure enough, the next day it started to rain.

It rained steadily all that day, which allowed the two-town evacuation to be called off. It rained a bit the next day, too, and the day after that and the one after that one, too. It rained on the run-up to Canada Day and it rained on Canada Day, as well — all day long, leaving everything sopping wet.

No one minded. No one could have set off fireworks anyway, since in the previous conditions each one of them could have started off its very own forest fire. It also rained the day after Canada Day, and more rain was expected to follow.

Without question, Edward was right: everybody loves that it’s raining. However, there’s probably no one who appreciates it more than those many who have been fighting the fires from the start, rain or shine, and who continue to fight them today with no end of the battle in sight.

The fires are still burning and more could still spring up. The rain has given everyone hope that the more dangerous blazes will come under control, but that means getting more crews on the ground to the front lines. They might be happy, but the demands made on them have doubled or tripled.

Canada Day long weekend or not, firefighters are still out in the Labrador forest, still struggling to make sure everyone else can celebrate the rain.

Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Grand Lake Sheshatshiu North West River Canada

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