Former faller says wildfire response mismanaged

The initial firefighters should be loggers and first responders living in the same area as the fire

Editor, The Times:

First, a heart-felt thank you to all volunteers and fire departments who tried to save their communities. A special thank you goes to first responders trying to keep people and properties safe, and to the Kamloops Indian Band who opened their powwow ground for evacuees to camp free of charge.

If gold stars could be given out, one would certainly go to Barriere residents who opened their rodeo grounds to house and feed hundreds of animals. People opened their doors to strangers and their own pastures to animals. This outpouring of support was shown throughout the North Thompson Valley.

Another gold star would be given to the people of Fort McMurray, Alberta, who donated transport loads of food, clothing, and essentials in appreciation of the assistance they received during their 2016 fire. There’s a very special feeling in knowing that you reside in a place where, during a time of need, people you don’t even know offer a hand. It makes you “love where you live.”

They say every dark cloud has a silver lining. You’ve just read about the silver lining. Now for the dark cloud!

I’ve come to the conclusion that Facebook should be reserved for Betty Sue to post a picture of her new puppy so Billy Bob can see it. This summer, most Facebook postings about the fires consisted of more false information than fact; hence, “fake news.”

The media was no better. When on an evacuation order or alert, folks want to know what’s happening in their own communities. They huddle around TVs watching the news, and what do they see? The same burning stump and the same three firefighters walking down the same fireguard.

In times of crisis, people rely on the media. Their coverage was pathetically inaccurate and also incomplete.

That takes care of the grey area; now for the black. This summer will certainly go down as the worst fire season in B.C.’s history.

This is, in part, thanks to ridiculous decisions made by both the Kamloops and Cariboo fire centers. It’s very obvious that the officers who decide how to attack fires got all their badges from Junior Forest Wardens and have reached the “Peter Principle” (being elevated to the point of incompetence).

In the 30 years I spent as a faller, I learned to respect the winds and crosswinds of the Thompson and the Cariboo. Whether it’s a house fire or a forest fire, time is of the essence. You don’t sit and monitor the situation; you try to knock the fire down before it becomes a wild fire.

A good example of “monitoring” was the spread of the Dunn Lake fire between Little Fort and Clearwater. The ministry sat and monitored the north flank of that fire for three days while equipment operators, machines and firefighting crews sat waiting to be activated.

When they were finally activated, the fire crews were at breakfast at 8 a.m., at a safety meeting afterwards, and were finally on the fire line by 10 a.m.

At 5:30 p.m. everything would be dropped. The next morning they came back to burned hoses and pumps.

Helicopters working on the fire flew directly over my property in Blackpool. It was almost 9:30 a.m. before choppers carrying buckets flew toward the Dunn Lake fire. Five hours of prime time fire suppression could have been happening after daylight.

By late June and early July, the ministry thought there wouldn’t be a bad fire season because of the extremely wet spring. That’s when the powers that be decided they had better make some “controlled burns” to make feed for mountain sheep. Right! Getting back to the “Peter Principle”, some fires escaped and were only controlled after several thousand hectares had already burned.

Then came the Ashcroft Reserve fire which was “monitored” until it was totally out of control. After many unsuccessful “back-burns”, they decided to call it the Elephant Hill fire because, rumor has it, their back-burns caused more loss than the original fire did.

Back-burning in the hands of people who know the local wind patterns is a very useful tool. In the hands of people who don’t, it can create havoc.

By mid-August, it was very evident that the agenda was no longer to put the fires out, but to make sure this was the worst fire season in B.C.’s history. There was a cold front with rain in the forecast. The total area burned was 600,000+ hectares.

The next day, a total area of 845,000 hectares was projected, just 5,000 short of the 1958 record. I realize that with the huge amount of smoke, it’s hard to measure the true size but if they’re out by 20-25 per cent, why bother to waste the fuel to measure it?

Then of course there’s the global grandstanding: bringing in firefighters from Australia, Mexico, the USA, and all across Canada.

What in hell is up with that? This is a provincial state of emergency not a global Boy Scout convention! The last time I checked, Canada had an army and air force with approximately 60,000 personnel, plus 30,000 reserves.

The rumor I heard was that the armed forces are not trained for firefighting. I say it’s bloody well time they were! These are physically fit people who are already on the government payroll.

The initial firefighters should be loggers and first responders living in the same area as the fire. Then trained fire suppression personnel from around the province should be brought in, then the army and air force. After all, they are employed to protect our country, not to put up temporary housing for illegal immigrants!

The air quality during this fire season has been severely compromised. By burning off sections in the controlled areas that were missed by the fire, the ministry added to the problem. The powers that be call it “reducing fuel.” Actually, what it does is destroy hundreds if not thousands of hectares of merchantable timber and kill thousands of animals that tried to seek refuge in green spaces inside the 100 per cent contained fire area.

When this fire season is over, lots of questions need to be answered, and those answers should be available to the public. We should know exactly how many dollars were paid to the foreign and out-of-province firefighters.

Also, a complete breakdown of every expense incurred should be made public, not lumped in with the overall cost of firefighting. There should also be an accounting of how many hectares were burned from the actual wildfires and how many were lost to back-burns and reducing fuel.

If the true figures were published, I think you’d have to admit that this catastrophic fire season is not about global warming. It’s about mismanagement.

Jim Lamberton

The Rambling Man

Blackpool, B.C.

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