Salmon Arm  

CSRD director says some North Shuswap residents now working along BCWS crews

Including locals in fire fight

UPDATE: 2:32 p.m.

A Columbia Shuswap Regional District director says the CSRD is working in cooperation with BCWS, looking to set up training opportunities for locals in the North Shuswap so they can collaborate on firefighting efforts.

Jay Simpson, director for CSRD Electoral Area F, told Castanet some residents in the North Shuswap are now working beside BC Wildfire Service crews.

“We have had good information from BCWS about their tactics and operations, and how people that are here and are trained are going to be able to work with BCWS putting out fires throughout our communities,” said Simpson, who is currently located in the North Shuswap community of Lee Creek.

“We do have many people who have been putting out fires that don't have any training. But we are working at setting up training for these people in our communities.”

Simpson said those who receive training will be able to work safely and collaboratively with BCWS.

In order to work collaboratively, Simpson said he’d like to increase communication with BCWS to get a better grasp on operational objectives.

“I think that we'd like to set up a regular time to have a contact or a phone meeting with them to understand what their day's priorities are,” he said.

Simpson said he understands there are other areas in the Shuswap and the province where there are other fire challenges that may be more pressing or significant to the wildfire service.

“And that's fine — we work best with good information, and if our information is that they're going to Sorrento or Kamloops for a more important fire, we understand that,” said Simpson.

“It's just having that clarity provides us the ability to understand where they are and why we may not see them in our community today.”

Simpson said the CSRD isn’t affiliated with, nor does it condone the actions of a protest convoy that tried to challenge an RCMP blockade on the Trans-Canada Highway on Wednesday. Simpson called the convoy an “impediment” to the community.

ORIGINAL: 4:00 a.m.

The BC Wildfire Service says it has started meeting with North Shuswap residents who have remained in evacuation order areas to try and collaborate on firefighting efforts.

Since the Bush Creek East wildfire took its devastating, significant run to the North Shuswap last week, residents have argued those who disobeyed orders to leave have helped to save structures, saying they are frustrated police have stopped them from delivering supplies or moving around in areas under evacuation order.

Meanwhile, local and provincial government representatives have urged people to leave, citing increased safety hazards for the public and firefighters, and disruptions to BCWS operations.

During a press conference Wednesday, Forrest Tower, BCWS fire information officer, said a unit crew has been working collaboratively with locals north of Lee Creek.

“I know that there was a meeting yesterday, that's my understanding, between wildfire and some folks looking to more just organize those efforts,” said Tower.

“That's what we're trying to work towards, is just more collaboration."

Bowinn Ma, minister of emergency management and climate readiness, recognized how "increasingly divisive" the issue has become in the North Shuswap as she spoke in another Wednesday news conference.

She said when unauthorized people are in evacuation areas, it escalates the danger for everyone, and can limit the wildland firefighting tactics that BCWS can employ.

"In order to do this, our efforts need to be united, we need to work together, not against each other. BCWS personnel are actively working to open up a dialogue with those behind the lines who are refusing to leave, to try to create an understanding of the seriousness of the situation," Ma said.

"And as they've done in the past in other communities, BCWS is reaching out to skilled and experienced people in the Shuswap to try and incorporate them into their work. We have to be working together on this, so people can't be doing their own thing.

We can't have equipment that's been staged for firefighters being moved so it's not there when it's needed. That puts the whole unified strategy at risk, and it puts people and their homes at risk."

Cliff Chapman, BCWS director of operations, echoed Tower’s sentiment, saying there have been multiple examples of collaborative efforts in the province.

“It has to be done in a safe and coordinated way, and we have seen examples of that in B.C. over the years,” Chapman said.

Tower said the biggest factor for successful collaboration is communication, using the Knutsford community near Kamloops as a prime example.

“We have a really good model of this going on the Rossmoore Lake fire, we have a really strong engagement from the Knutsford community, really strong community firefighter group that we have partially hired,” Tower said.

“We’ve been doing that since July — it’s working really well.”

Tower said BCWS still wants residents to leave when placed under evacuation order, but stressed there are ways for locals to work alongside BCWS crews if they chose to stay on their properties.

“There needs to be some trust in that what we are doing is the most efficient way and the fastest way to get people back into this area,” said Tower.

Tower said BCWS has gone as far as hiring locals as emergency firefighters in other instances, noting that there is a base level of training, certification and personal protective equipment required.

“If you're there, make yourself known and you will have to take direction from someone that is an expert and is part of the response model,” said Tower.

“If that willingness is there, it can work extremely well and it does honestly help us in the long run.”

More Salmon Arm News