Islanders battle forest fires in northern BC

  • Jul. 21, 2004 4:00 p.m.

Three islanders recently returned from the mainland, where they were helping douse the 250 forest fires which are ravaging northern BC and the Yukon.
Louis Bourcet worked as a safety officer at a fire near Watson Lake, Cam Paterson worked as a logistics officer out of Smithers and Lorraine Thomas worked as a dispatcher out of Terrace.
After last year’s fire season, the province created a partnership program whereby regular forest service employees are recruited temporarily for firefighting support to free up trained firefighters to work on the front lines, said Mr. Bourcet.
Firefighters are organized like an army, Mr. Bourcet said. The foot soldiers are the people working to put out the fire, but they can’t deal with the fire and the logistics of putting it out, so a whole other group of people work behind the lines to organize supplies, maintain a camp, get food and water and make sure communication lines are working. It’s this kind of work that the regular forest service employees do when they are recruited for fire fighting.
Mr. Bourcet worked at a 40,000 hectare fire two hours west of Watson Lake on the Alaska Highway. Fires are normally allowed to burn themselves out unless they will impact humans in some way Mr. Bourcet said. This fire closed down the highway, and threatened a guide outfitter and a highways maintenance yard, so a crew of 60-70 firefighters with about 20 support staff were deployed to deal with it.
At one point the smoke was so thick a helicopter couldn’t land in Watson Lake. Fortunately nature helped control the fire with rain.
“It’s one of those things where I wish there weren’t any fires, but I’m glad to be able to help if there is one,” said Mr. Bourcet.

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