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To call the whole operation impressive — the piloting, the training, and the execution — is an understatement.
Firefighters have travelled all the way from the Sunshine Coast to take part. Classroom seminars were taught in the morning, and everyone planning to do this sort of work must retrain at the start of each season, regardless of how many years experience a firefighter has.
During a busy summer, Large tells me, up to 44 helicopters can be parked in the smallish field now in use, from smaller Bells to the massive Sikorskys. The last time this happened was during the very hot, very busy summer of 2009.
This is Large's 15th year on the job.
"What I love about my job, it sounds corny, but I actually love doing something for the public, for my province," she says.
"We do work hard, and I like that as well, and there is the camaraderie. You might see someone in the uniform and not know them, but they're family."
Dan Waugh works in snowboard shops in Whistler during the winter, but for the last five years he has been a unit crewmember in Pemberton, ready to be called in at any time.
He likes the "on-the-fly" problem-solving aspect of fighting wildfires.
"You see a lot of B.C. from a different perspective," he says. "You're out there with a purpose, you provide a benefit to people."
And then there are the bragging rights because "everyone is interested in what you do."
"But the paradox of being a firefighter is that you want to get paid for doing your job, but that means that somewhere there has to be a fire," he says.
Last year, during a cooler summer, the Pemberton Fire Zone area had 11 wildfires, all started by human activity. In hotter years, like 2009, there tends to be a spike in lightning-initiated fires. That year, there were 115 in total in the Pemberton Fire Zone, 102 started by lightning and 13 by humans. The yearly average for human-initiated fires in the zone is 10 between 2002 and 2011.
Large launches into a wish list for the public this year. "Be sure you mention prevention. Tell people to make sure their campfires are out and bare-hand cold to the touch, and not to light fires when it is too windy. And to report fires," she says.
"It is 100 per cent frustrating. Lightning fires are natural, eco-systems are based on them. But human fires? It's all preventable. So often it is weekend warriors in a rush to get home, and they don't check their fires in the morning when they leave. Those fires really bother me."
The first large forest fire in the region this season broke out near Lillooet on Saturday afternoon (May 12), and at least some members of the Salish Unit Crew who had taken part in Friday's training were part of a 10-person team deployed to the Kamloops Fire Centre to help out.
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