Firefighter Mike Parsons was one of the local firefighters who was called in to help with the Rock Creek fire when it first started. The crew travelled though the bush with a Type 1 engine that carries about 200 gallons of water

Local firefighters join battle against wildfires

Members on standby to fight Washington’s massive Stickpin fire

Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue is ready to support neighbouring firefighters with dousing the Stickpin fire, near Grand Forks, should the call be received.

Regional fire chief Terry Martin said some members already added their efforts to the Rock Creek fire, which is now 4,534 hectares in size and considered active but is 75 per cent contained. There is a list of ready and willing regional paid on-call members and career staff to pitch in south of the border.

The Stickpin Fire, still estimated at 19,240 hectares, saw 33 BC Wildfire Service personnel arrived Tuesday to help create guard lines and fuel-free areas on the northeast side of the fire.

“Right now we’re in a holding pattern for anything with that Stickpin fire,” Martin explained Tuesday. “We’re not sending any apparatus or personnel right now but if called upon, we’ll assist as best as we can in what their requirement is at the time.”

He and a crew made their way out to the Rock Creek blaze a day after the fire started mid-month. They assisted the Midway Fire Department, alongside members from Grand Forks and Big White.

While Martin helped with the incident’s command portion of the disaster, his members covered hot spots from Rock Creek right up to Westbridge.

The extent of the damage was really eye opening and the “fast moving, hot moving fire” presented many dangers, according to fire captain Grant Tyson.

“It was vigorous ground fires and it burnt to the roots of the trees so the roots were all gone and there was like 80-foot trees falling down like crazy,” he recalled. “The wind started to blow, choppers would come in and drop some water and knock some trees over.”

Their job was to secure the campsite areas by stopping burns coming back toward the trailers. They worked the edge of the fire, creating a perimeter and safe zone for campers to come in and get their vehicles. Many trailers rolled out unharmed, beyond the odd melting marks, but it was surreal to walk through and see picnic tables left untouched, dressed with table cloths and glasses yet no tents remain at some sites.

The crew travelled though the bush with a Type 1 engine that carries about 200 gallons of water, a small pump, hand tools, forestry hose and chainsaws.

“We unfortunately had one firefighter who was injured,” added Martin. “He got burns to one of his ankles but he’s going to be okay, he’s just going to be off for a bit.”

It felt good to lend a hand and more importantly to back fellow firefighters from the region.

“It was a good experience and it was good to work with neighbouring fire departments as well,” Martin added. “We all know these people and it’s good to work with them on the ground and become that team that the regional district has right now.”

The last time local firefighters were called out to deal with a fire of this magnitude was back in Cranbrook in 2003, he said, which was comparable to this busy fire season.

So far this year, the Southeast Fire Centre has seen 554 fires, which have burned 10,515 hectares. Of these 482 were lightning-caused and the rest person-caused (72). In 2003, this time of year, the region saw 593 fires burn 44,205 hectares.

Local fire crews did assist with the Pend d’Oreille fire in 2007 but only by keeping watch during the wee hours.

“But it didn’t come to what the Rock Creek fire was,” Martin explained. “It stayed in the forest so the wildfire management branch looked after it.

“And also, if you remember correctly, that fire blew up, as they say, but then a huge weather event came in and started raining and kind of helped extinguish it. It went away as quick as it blew up.”

The Pend d’Oreille fire burned to nearly 4,000 hectares and was contained and controlled within 30 days. It took 104 days to suppress but much of this number represents the mop-up stage, where firefighters went into the once out of bounds perimeter to control the hot grounds, making sure no other fires started up.

The Stickpin fire is experiencing very smoky conditions, which is creating low visibility issues that are limiting air access and reconnaissance for the fire, according to Karlie Shaughnessy of the Southeast Fire Centre.

There is an information meeting scheduled for today at 6 p.m. at the Grand Forks Secondary School and another planned for 8 p.m. tonight at the Christina Lake Community Hall.

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