–by Britt Santowski, SPN
Sooke firefighter Josh Schmidt was among the crew on a Metchosin engine sent to the Vanderhoof vicinity for a 10-day shift in August this summer. This was Schmidt’s second fight against forest fires this year, as he was also on the Tugwell fire earlier this year. Schmidt met with SPN to give a bit of an insider’s look at the fight.
His first observation was that fighting a forest fire was completely different in nature than responding to an in-town call. For structure fires they get the call, respond with sirens and lights on, and tackle the fire head on until it’s out.
With forest fires, it’s not so much a race against time as it is about implementing the right strategy for the situation on hand. In many cases, especially where lives and communities are not at risk, fires are left to burn. When a fire burns away dead underbrush, or fuel, it can be a good thing. When people are at risk, strategy kicks in. How close is the fire to a community? Will a change of wind risk that community? Are there human lives at risk? The answers to those questions can change everything.
Schmidt said the fires in Vanderhoof were somewhat surreal. Sometimes, Schmidt said, the visibility was 200 to 300 meters. And it could get even worse, dropping down to 40 meters. In mid-day at times, the sky would be black with a tinge of blood red. He had never before seen the sun blocked out almost completely by fire smoke. Crew would be seen walking around with their headlights on. Mid-day. This darkness is seen in the tweet below, captured at 4:30 p.m. in Vanderhoof on August 15.
yesterday afternoon in vanderhoof. 430pm. more resources are needed to help battle these fires. pic.twitter.com/aUxJWGjr8C
— Brian Frenkel (@briancondor13) August 15, 2018
Smoke this heavy can’t help but get right into your body. Back for about a week now he recently headed out for a mountain bike ride, and he could still feel the pale ache of shortness of breath pounding in his lungs. In Vanderhoof, he noted, that a Q-Tip in the ear (yes, yes, he knows, it’s against all physicians’ advice) would come out pitch black. Phlegm, too. When it’s this thick, the smoke also lives inside of the body. It will still be a while before the smoke leaves the body.
His main takeaway was an experience of human connection that he’d never experienced before. He tells of a Christian camp in the area, which was shut down as a result of the fires. Instead of heading home as was their prerogative, the employees from that camp headed to support the fire fighters. They took over a community kitchen, and dedicated their time to feeding between 150 to 200 hungry people, throughout their stay.
“Overall,” says Schmidt, “it was a great experience.” The comradery during those grueling 12-hour shifts was second to none, great for team building and equally great for networking. It wasn’t always good, but the interactions were real, like one would expect from family.
He would absolutely do it again, he said, though he says he wouldn’t do two in a year. It’s too hard on the body, working in that all smoke.
By day, Schmidt works for the Canadian Navy. On the side and when he is not deployed, he lends his services to the Sooke Fire Rescue Services. (If you are interested in becoming a volunteer fire fighter, click here.)
As of this writing, the Shovel Lake fire just outside of Vanderhoof is 40% contained, and is burning just over 92,000 hectares. It was first discovered on Friday, July 27, 2018.
Another crew was sent from southern Vancouver Island, but they were not utilized and ended up being sent back home.
According to numbers published by the Province on August 29, 2018 has officially surpassed 2017 in terms of the number of hectares burned. There were 15% more lightening strikes than average in 2018.
Fires near Vanderhoof, photos from Twitter
After 11 days of providing structural protection Victoria Fire crews have been demobilized and are now making the long drive back to #yyj. Thanks to the residents of #Vanderhoof and #FortStJames for their hospitality during our stay. #BCWildfires #yyjnews #iaff pic.twitter.com/O1CyFNo1BO
— Victoria Fire L-730 (@VictoriaFire730) August 25, 2018
Our firefighters in Vanderhoof are working hard to assist with wildfire relief efforts. While our region remains well-staffed in case of emergency, we encourage everyone to do their part to prevent fires, incl. properly disposing of cigarettes. More info: https://t.co/BA3EOt7TAN pic.twitter.com/0iMNK1b3Ze
— City of Chilliwack (@City_Chilliwack) August 21, 2018
Relief is on the way. Fire crews from #Vancouver will be making the trip to Vanderhoof to help in firefighting efforts. A crew of 8 firefighters and 2 trucks will be leaving tomorrow morning. Details @NEWS1130. pic.twitter.com/DnZjxymN3z
— Taran Parmar (@Tarankparmar) August 21, 2018
Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews nearly at the staging area in the Vanderhoof region and ready to begin assisting efforts to manage the Wildfire crisis. pic.twitter.com/kmFiMJa771
— Tim Doyle (@canada_tim) August 17, 2018
Shovel Lake fire has continued to grow in northern BC. Our closest CNBC church, Mapes Baptist Church (Vanderhoof, BC), is 60 km away & will likely be spared. Pray for wisdom to know how this church can respond to help communities affected by this wildfire & others. pic.twitter.com/sxoO65oyrh
— Cdn Mobilization (@CdnMobilization) August 17, 2018
Flew over a new fire on the way back from vanderhoof. pic.twitter.com/PkvDw3JHcE
— Kathryn Reid (@l10electra) August 15, 2018
#BCWildfire Service crews and aviation resources are responding to a wildfire by Gordon Lake, 30 km NE of #Vanderhoof in the Prince George Fire Centre. Fire size estimated at 70 hectares, and smoke may be visible from surrounding areas. pic.twitter.com/fMWTKyM8fQ
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) July 17, 2018