As huge areas of the Southern Interior of B.C. are consumed by wildfires dozens of Vancouver Island firefighters are answering the call to help.
On Tuesday morning a four-person crew and engine from the Courtenay Volunteer Fire Department departed for Westwold in the B.C. interior for up to two weeks to assist with the provincial wildfire response along with a crew from the Oyster River Volunteer Fire Department.
Coombs and Errington are just two more island departments among many others already there.
Oyster River Lt. Wil Baum recently returned from an eight-day deployment near Cache Creek and will never forget what he saw.
“Fires on the side of the road, you’re driving through it. Hydro poles burned to the ground. There were pretty much fires to the left, the right, in front, behind, almost everywhere we went,” he said.
Baum was one of five Oyster River firefighters teamed with five from North Vancouver deployed to near Lytton and Cache Creek to save buildings from the advancing flames. They used provincial structure protection units that are set up in 50-foot trailers and stationed in areas of concern.
“It was kind of surreal,” added Baum. “It was like we were in the middle of a movie scene. It really felt unbelievable.”
They used a system of sprinklers and hoses, pumps and sometimes a portable water supply to protected 80 to 100 homes in eight days, literally moving from one to the next ahead of the flames — including one large property where they protected numerous buildings.
“Eventually, after four days the fire did come through the property and it did test our equipment and our setup and with total success,” he said. “That felt spectacular.”
The experience the crews now bring back to the island is invaluable.
“So they can bring that back and teach us and make us a better fire department to respond to anything that would happen in our community,” said Oyster River Fire Chief Bruce Green.
The province pays fire departments to fight wildfires and Oyster River is already putting it to good use, scheduling two daytime firefighters during the summer to provide a quicker response to any emergency including wildfires.