Sunday, August 3, 2014

The view from here

Well, not much of a view at all. The top photo shows downtown Yellowknife, taken a short time ago from the top of Pilots' Monument. The photo below it shows what it's supposed to look like.

At last count, we've had 333 forest fires in the NWT this summer; 54 of them have been put out. Smoke has blanketed the city for days on end. Last Thursday we had a brief thunderstorm. The clouds, combined with the smoke, made the street lights come on at 5 p.m. and dropped a sludgy rain that coated vehicles, houses, vegetation -- you name it.

A week and a half ago, my husband flew out to the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. Tracts of scorched earth, hanging smoke, open flame. A friend who's been in one of the burn areas said the fire came through so hot and so fast that some trees are charred to a crisp on one side, but still green on the other.

Highway 3, the road that connects Yellowknife and other North Slave communities to the rest of Canada, opens and closes, depending on how close the fire is to the road, and/or how much smoke is affecting visibility. People have been stranded in Yellowknife, Behchoko, and Fort Providence. There are all sorts of photos floating around showing the post-apocalyptic landscape that now borders Highway 3. A neighbor who just drove up told me that the view is surreal, with tree stumps the only thing left in some place, while in others there are standing trees, but with the tops and bottoms burned. It's not unusual to see trees with a little bonfire burning at their base scattered along the road.

There have been times, I've heard, when visibility on the road is zero. In Yellowknife, we often live in a sepia-tone bubble. Right now the air tastes like an ashtray and my high-tech asthma meds are barely keeping up. According to Environment Canada, Yellowknife's Air Quality Health Index is currently 15 on a scale of 10. The windows are coated with grime and our clothes reek of smoke. The T-shirt I wore grocery shopping yesterday morning is now buried the bottom of the laundry hamper because it smells so bad. Canadian Tire is pretty much sold out of car wash liquid, as people try to keep the smoke residue and ash from their vehicles. It's been a strange summer, and with no change in the weather forecast, it looks like it's going to continue for some time.