This has been an early, and fatal, wildfire season for B.C., and it’s time for everyone to be aware of their own actions, says a Fraser Valley fire chief.
Tom DeSorcy, fire chief and emergency coordinator for the District of Hope, said this fire seasons comes on the heels of what’s been a “very long year and a half” for first responders, who changed protocols and adapted quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He wants the public to know that in addition to the wildfire risks, there are other impacts to the community when you start a fire during a ban.
“Think about the resources that get deployed because of your actions,” he said.
Whenever the fire department goes to a call right now, if there is the slightest risk of a wildfire, then BC Wildfire Services is not far behind – or above. They follow all calls closely and if someone is having a backyard campfire, BC Wildfire Service sends aircraft out to monitor the call.
“Even just your simple little wiener roast is going to draw so much attention,” DeSorcy said, including RCMP and others. And the calls are coming in about every kind of fire risk.
“The province is on edge and people are concerned, and rightly so,” he said. “You need to be aware that eyes are on everybody.”
Recently there were complaints coming in about fireworks being set off near the Hope Golf Course. The Hope Fire Department attended the call and was able to catch up with the young people setting them off. DeSorcy said that they were apologetic, especially after learning what the wide-reaching effects of their actions were, and could have been.
“It was a good teaching moment,” he said.
He said his crews have also been busy lending support in Lytton. There have been at least four firefighters now who have gone to the community to help protect structures while BC Wildfire takes the lead. It’s part of the provincial inter-agency agreement, and has given local firefighters the opportunity to experience different types of situations.
For example, one task given to local firefighters was to stand watch over a First Nation cemetery through the night, to protect the grounds.
“They sat there all night,” DeSorcy said.
And while the people of Lytton were hit quickly with a tactical evacuation order just moments after the fire started, that’s not typically how evacuations work. DeSorcy said they are working on increasing usage of an app for cell phones called Alertable. The Fraser Valley Regional District uses the app for events like heat warnings, air quality warnings and flood information.
DeSorcy suggests people download the app, but adds that there are many ways to keep abreast of fire activity, from reading the news online, or keeping tabs on BC Wildfire. It’s up to each resident to keep informed and be ready, and to reach out to neighbours before an emergency so it’s easier to share information during one.
“Know what’s going on around you,” he said. “People need to open their doors and their windows, have a look and talk to your neighbours. If a fire jumps into our community, that should not be a surprise to you.”
And be prepared to leave, he added. Have gas in your car, make sure you have a grab and go bag. If you don’t know what to put in one, there are suggestions online.
“It’s vitally important to pay attention,” he said.
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