Pemberton fire crews gear up for busy month
Hot, dry weather expected to spark fires
By Andy Stonehouse
It's "hurry up and wait" time for the dozens of provincial forest fire fighters based out of Pemberton's fire protection base, as August brings its seemingly inevitable round of natural and human-caused fires.
Andy Goss, forest protection assistant and manager of the Pemberton base, said he and crews serving the coastal fire protection unit are on heightened alert after more than a week of high temperatures and dry conditions.
"Right now, we're expecting fires, and when they do break out, they're gonna have an attitude — they'll get up and go on us," Goss said. "The fuels are drying out and the snowpack is gone, so now we just sit back and wait for a man-made or lightning-ignition fire to start."
Along with other bases in Hope, Qualicum Beach and Bella Coola, the Pemberton crews are now on stand-by in preparation for what is typically the busiest fire month of the year. Goss has been in the midst of near-daily conference calls with coastal headquarters in Parksville, with the coastal troops ready to protect the area from Manning Park to the Central Coast, plus Vancouver Island.
Three three-person initial attack crews are at the ready, as well as a 20-person unit crew from D'Arcy, while Mount Currie's fire crew is currently at work tending to a blaze near Atlin, just south of the Yukon border. Contract fire crews have also been put on notice, as well as tanker trucks. Helicopters stand at the ready at each of the five bases, plus a water-bomber aircraft based out of Abbotsford.
Goss said local crews have spent a busy season on the road or in the air, travelling to fight fires in Northern B.C. and Alberta or as far away as Northern Ontario.
B.C.'s forests ministry, which oversees fire protection work, is connected to the Canadian Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg, where spare fire-fighting resources can be shared across the country. Both fire-fighters and equipment have gone Canada-wide this season. While the constant travel may be a headache, Goss said the exchange is important for his local crews.
"It's a good way to meet other people and to get to work on different fuel types. Fire behaves differently on the coast, especially on the steep slopes, versus what you see in flatter forest areas like Alberta."
Coastal crews had a relatively quiet season last year, thanks to fairly damp conditions, and consequently spent most of their time on the road. A lightning storm which struck last Aug. 6 set off approximately 60 fires and kept crews at work, although nothing got completely out of control.
"It's looking like things are getting a lot drier this year. The winds in the valley can be heavy-duty. Hopefully we're ahead of the game."
Like the fire ban in effect in Whistler, a province-wide fire ban is now in effect, and Goss warns campers and travellers to take extra precautions. Anyone using gasoline powered equipment, like chainsaws, or riding dirt bikes should be very aware of the fire danger, and even an improperly discarded cigarette butt could spark a blaze.
Goss said the fire control bases also rely on the public for their help in spotting forest fires, allowing crews to make an aggressive initial attack and help prevent the fires from spreading.
More than 100 wildfires are currently burning across the province, with the largest burn areas in north-western B.C., the Prince George region and in the Kamloops forest district.