New reporter jumps right into wildfire season

My time at the Western News in 2018 was brief, having only joined the team mid-August, but I did have the opportunity to cover an especially important story that I’d like to highlight at this year’s end.

BC Wildfire Services (BCWS) reached out and invited me on a helicopter tour of some of the ongoing wildfires in early September. Their communications team wanted to use the opportunity to show off some of the wins they had this season with some of the larger wildfires in the area, which led to my story ‘Myths and facts about fighting B.C. wildfires’ in our Sept. 5 edition.

Related: Myths and facts about fighting B.C. wildfires

I jumped at the chance to cover this — and not just because I had never been in a helicopter before — but because at this time, we were just coming down from a hellish summer that saw the skies turn to grey and brown and the hillsides swallowed by flames. Those here in the summer will remember the numerous air quality warnings that were issued, the highway closures and evacuations, and flames that seemed to lick at every corner of the region.

Steep and loose terrain challenged crews as they battled the Snowy Mountain Wildfire. The blaze covered 17,670 hectares and took two months to control. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

The team first took me over one of the more notorious fires in the region, the Snowy Mountain wildfire. This blaze began July 17, is still on the wildfires of note list and spans 19,226 hectares, challenging crews with steep and treacherous terrains.

Stephen Kada, an Australia-native who worked as a wildfire information officer with BCWS over the summer, explained that much of their efforts of fire suppression on Snowy Mountain involved helicopters making bucket drops. Depending on the distance to the nearest water source, these helicopters made 50 to 60 drops a day.

Related: Wildfire mitigation work helps restore sheep habitat in South Okanagan

We toured above the Old Tom Creek wildfire, which spanned 1,380 hectares and began on Aug. 15. As of Sept. 13, BCWS listed the Old Tom Creek wildfire as under control, again meaning that this battle was ongoing for nearly a month. It should be mentioned that throughout the wildfire season in B.C., firefighters worked shifts of two weeks on and three days off, usually putting in more than 12 hours per day.

The Old Tom Creek wildfire began on July 15 and took nearly one month to control. It spanned 1,380 hectares. Jordyn Thomson/Western News
At the time of this helicopter tour, the Cool Creek wildfire was still listed as out of control by BCWS. This fire burned for nearly a month and spanned 13,626 hectares. Jordyn Thomson/Western News

Related: Caution urged as people head back into wildfire affected areas in B.C.

So in this area alone, crews had to battle not one, not two, but three ongoing wildfires at the same time. I cannot imagine the stress and pressure they must have felt, as our only line of defence from fire sweeping into communities and destroying homes and livelihoods.

Enough cannot be said about all the courageous firefighters who volunteered their time and put their safety on the line to fight these fires. Thousands of people from dozens of organizations (local, provincial, national and international) came together to help this province in a time of crisis, and to them we are indebted.

So take a moment this holiday season to remember what this area looked like in the summer months, and be thankful these brave men and women answered the call in our time of need. And I’m sure they will be around next summer to answer the call when the inevitable wildfire season begins again.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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