Salt Spring Fire Rescue team in Williams Lake

Crew reports from the frontline

Three Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue firefighters and the department’s reserve water tender have been deployed to the British Columbia Interior to help wildfire suppression efforts near Williams Lake.

Salt Spring Fire Chief Arjuna George said the Office of the Fire Commissioner put out the call for immediate assistance at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 11.

“Within 24 hours we had a crew ready to respond,” George said.

Lieutenants Mitchell Sherrin and Colby Sawchuk and firefighter Warren Nuyens left the island Wednesday morning and arrived at the Williams Lake staging area shortly after 8 p.m. that night. The air quality was reported to be very poor and a number of smaller fires noted during their travel. The crews were tasked to report to the command centre at 7 a.m. Thursday, July 13.

As of Wednesday, July 12, 22 fire departments had reportedly sent apparatus and firefighters to help in the efforts. The Salt Spring crew joined forces with Peachland Fire, View Royal Fire, Salmon Arm Fire and Langley Fire as part of Task Force 3 under the direction of a Kelowna fire chief. Their primary goal is to protect the Tolko Mill in the White Lake fire region, George said.

With the team is SSIFR’s reserve fire tender, a 1997 Freightliner with a 1,500 gallon water capacity. The apparatus became a reserve apparatus with the purchase of a new 3,000 gallon tender this year.

Firefighter Warren Nuyens stated there are three wood mills that are being threatened, which is one of the city’s main industries. Nuyens reported that crews experienced a weather change with cooler air but expected high winds and possible lightening later.

“They are doing their best to remove combustibles away from buildings in case the fire approaches. The fire front is only about 10 kilometres away from their current work area. The White Lake fire is estimated to be over 3,800 hectares in size,” George said.

“Our crew has been requested by the province for a minimum of six days. We may have a second deployment next week to replace the team if required,” he added. “This event will provide help to a region in need while providing our local firefighters with incredible experience and knowledge to bring home to our operation.”

George noted the Cariboo region has been rated at extreme fire risk for a number of days and is forecasted to remain at an extreme level. Salt Spring Island is still under a high fire risk and is forecasted to remain high for the next while.

“A high to extreme fire danger rating means the fire risk is serious, and new fires may start easily and burn vigorously,” George explained. “The fire behavior and number of active fires we are seeing in B.C. is a timely warning to us all. It is not too late to FireSmart your home and property by ensuring you have a defensible space around your home. As temperatures rise, and our forests dry out, please use extreme caution. Let’s keep Salt Spring Island fire free this summer.”

This summer marks the first time the province has declared a provincial emergency and a provincial fire service since the 2003 fires in Kelowna. Salt Spring Fire Rescue sent sent two trucks and personnel to help in those fires.

George said he will continue to provide updates on the members’ progress as they develop.

“For all those battling the fires, and supporting the efforts in British Columbia, thank you and stay safe and our thoughts are with all those affected by this devastating fire.” he said.

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