Volunteer firefighting crews from the Cowichan Valley have travelled to the Interior to help battle wildfires that are ravaging B.C. in the early summer.
The North Cowichan and Mill Bay fire departments have each sent a fire engine and a crew of four to 100 Mile House, where they are helping fend off the Deka Lake wildfire. The crews’ primary job will be to help protect structures from the flames. The Lake Cowichan fire department has also sent a truck to the Cariboo region.
According to North Cowichan manager of fire and bylaw services Martin Drakeley, his department got the call from the BC Wildfire Service on Friday night, and an engine with a crew of firefighters representing all of North Cowichan’s halls was on the second ferry to the Mainland on Saturday morning.
The Mill Bay Fire Department got the call around the same time, and in just over 12 hours, four members of the department were on board Engine 75 and headed to the Interior. Lake Cowichan sent a tender and two firefighters to the Lone Butte area. Cedar has also sent an engine and crew.
Such calls can come suddenly, but departments are prepared for them.
“You know it’s coming,” Drakeley said. “It’s kind of every year. The crews do train for it.”
The training is useful locally as well, Drakeley added, and can be of particular benefit to North Cowichan with the massive municipal forest reserve it has to tend to.
North Cowichan’s fire engine is committed to serve the BC Wildfire Service for two weeks, but the department is able to rotate crews as much as they want. The first crew will be with the engine for seven days before being replaced by another. The firefighters are reimbursed for their efforts, but there are still challenges for them, on top of helping to fight wildfires.
“Two weeks is a long time to have a paid, on-call staff away from their families and jobs,” Drakeley said.
Some of the firefighters take holidays, and some take other time that they are owed, Drakeley explained, adding that their employers deserve a hand as well.
North Cowichan will be able to pull back its own engine and crew at a moment’s notice, if necessary, but it will still take 10 hours for them to return. That’s important, Drakeley noted, as North Cowichan is the only municipality on Vancouver Island, if not in B.C., with its own 5,000-hectare municipal forest in tinder-dry conditions.
It’s unusual for crews from the Island to get the call to help in the Interior this early in the summer, Drakely pointed out.
“We’re three days into the fire season,” he said. “And we usually don’t get deployed until August.”