Flames of Destruction: A Salute to the Heroes: BC’s Firefighters.
While slash and burn
economics are the current order in BC politics, with many people saying
they are the worst in BC’s history, an even more consequential slash and
burn is going on the in BC Interior, as the worst year for forest fire
damage ever recorded continues to take its toll.
As of Wednesday evening,
over 3000 fires have been burning in BC’s forests, according to the
office of the BC Fire Commissioner. Although BC, with its heavy
coniferous forestlands, is no stranger to forest fires, this year’s
amount of damage and the level of effort needed to fight these blazes
are the worst since the province began keeping records on forest fires.
“It’s one of the worst
since anyone started recording these things,” says Rob Brett, president
of the BC Professional Firefighters Association. “At this point over 244
houses have been lost in Kelowna alone, with damages maybe
running into the tens of millions.”
The BCPFA are the
firefighters working for municipal and regional fire departments across
the province. They have been working side by side with members of the BC
government and Service Employees Union, who work for the Ministry of
Forests, fighting these blazes since a state of emergency in the central
Okanagan was called last week by the federal government. In addition,
numerous volunteer firefighters and citizens’ groups are helping out as
“After the fire
commissioner asked for audits of fire departments’ staffing and
equipment, approvals were given to send in help, and fire departments
started sending guys in,” he said, adding that municipal fire crews all
over the province have been dispatching people to help the forest
service workers on the front lines. “We’ve got people coming in from Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Kamloops and Prince George on their days off to
fight these fires and then go back home to work their regular shifts.”
As of Wednesday, Brett
says the blaze that has been consuming Kelowna is currently contained.
However, that could change at any moment, since a mere simple shift in
wind direction could unleash the flames and push the fire toward the
Already several Interior
towns, including McLure and Berriere, have been, at least in part, lost
to the fires, and although evacuation measures for Kelowna are on hold, since the
fire is currently contained, people are being told to be ready to move
at any time.
But despite the immense
property loss, injuries among both firefighters and community residents
have so far been mostly minor, Brett, says, and he attributes this to
the determination of people to work together. However, reports of
exhaustion, high blood pressure and minor heat stroke are becoming more
common, as firefighters work long hours, often will no breaks, to keep
the flames in check.
In the past week both
Prime Minister Jean Chretien and BC Premier Gordon Campbell arrived in Kelowna to assess the damage and
offer additional funds to pay for combating the blaze.
But even while the flames
still blaze, concern is growing among both firefighters and community
residents about the huge cost of fighting the fire, what, if anything,
could have been done to prevent it, and the danger of government cuts,
especially provincial, inhibiting the ability of public service workers
to respond to such emergencies.
Brett says so far he has
not seen any serious infringement on current firefighting abilities due
to Liberal cutbacks to the forest service. But he again attributes this
to the courage, skill and determination of both union and volunteer fire
crews and community residents to pull together in a quick and orderly
fashion. He adds there can be no underestimating the threat that
government cuts to such services pose to the public.
“So far no one has been
inhibited by the cuts in doing their jobs, but that I think is because
of the terrific response of communities across the province,” he said.
“The people doing the cuts across the province should have their eyes
opened by what’s happened in Kelowna as to the risks the are
taking. This (mass fires) can happen anywhere in BC at any time, and no
one should forget that.”