Firefighters tackle aggressive B.C. inferno
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | August 3, 2017
Sudden heavy winds turned a seemingly dormant wildfire into an aggressive inferno, elevating its threat level to a nearby town, and forcing quick action from Haliburton firefighter Jordan Mack and his crew.
Together, they extinguished the fire around the perimeter of Quesnel, British Columbia, a small town south of Prince George, and using heavy machinery, dug large holes to prevent the fire from expanding again.
And that was just one their first challenges after being deployed to B.C., where more than 150 wildfires continue to ravage the province.
“It was very surprising how quickly it went from a dormant fire to an aggressive one,” said Mack, 30, a crew leader for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s fire department at the Stanhope Airport base. “A lot of it has to do with their dry conditions.”
Carrying only his personal belongings and fire safety equipment, Mack and three other fire crews touched down in Prince George, B.C. July 12 to help local firefighters contain the growing threat that has forced the province to enter into a state of emergency.
The final wave of Haliburton firefighters were deployed July 21.
In total, 24 Fire Rangers and five support staff from Haliburton were sent.
Approximately 6,000 people have had to abandon their homes, and B.C. Premier John Horgan, recently extended the state of emergency by two weeks to the end of day on Aug. 4.
Mack, who has been deployed to B.C. on four separate occasions, described the initial briefing in Prince George as hectic. They were quickly assigned to contain a fire near the town of Quesnel, which was labelled as a high priority due to its proximity to the town.
It was also full of residents who hadn’t been evacuated.
By the next morning, their crew was stationed outside of the town, which was when strong winds suddenly turned the fire into an aggressive blaze that would have otherwise engulfed Quesnel.
Mack and senior crew member Chris Giatti, 23, recalled the lack of water in B.C., which forced them to think on their feet.
“We have lakes everywhere here, so moving our water efficiently out there is very difficult because of the terrain,” Mack said. “It was hard to get the water up and over hills … that was our biggest challenge.”
To get around the problem, excavators would dig out sump holes and dump water in, allowing for easier access.
Giatti spoke with some of B.C.’s parattack crews, one of the province’s four specialized firefighting units.
“Those guys had some crazy stories,” he said, referring to the challenging landscape parattack crews encounter, and how they’re often only accessible by air.
“They are very knowledgeable,” he said.
The fire around Quesnel has been contained and currently doesn’t pose a threat to the town, says Mack.
The Haliburton fire base is always ready to lend a hand wherever it’s needed, says Shayne McCool, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s fire information officer for the Haliburton area.
“Ontario Fire Rangers and staff supported the Fort McMurray wildfire situation last season and we will continue to support the firefighting efforts in B.C. to the best of our ability this season. They’re both very difficult situations and our thoughts are with the people of British Columbia as well as the first responders,” he said.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.