'Great honour': Mexican firefighters helping to battle South Okanagan wildfires | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'Great honour': Mexican firefighters helping to battle South Okanagan wildfires

Firefighters from Mexico are helping the B.C. Wildfire Service battle South Okanagan wildfires.
Image Credit: B.C. Wildfire Service
August 10, 2021 - 6:30 AM

Mexican firefighters assisting with the wildfire response in the South Okanagan are grateful to be in B.C. to help out.

Firefighters from Mexico are supporting the B.C. Wildfire Service in the battle against the Nk'Mip Creek fire using hand ignition tools, pumps and hose, as they work a variety of areas along the fire's perimeter, said Gregory Blais, liaison officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

A total of 98 firefighters from Mexico have been in the South Okanagan since July 24.

Mexican representatives Abundio Bustos, Edgar Burciaga and COVID-19 co-ordinator Marco Rojas Gomez spoke Monday, Aug. 9, while taking a break after a two-week stint combating the wildfire burning to the east of Oliver and Osoyoos.

READ MORE: Firefighters from Mexico taking break after battling South Okanagan wildfire

Wildfire season in Mexico starts in February and ends in July, Burciaga said, so by coming north, firefighters are able to work year round. In September, the firefighters will return to Mexico to conduct prescribed burns and replant forests in order to prepare for their peak wildfire season.

The biggest difference between wildfire fighting in Canada and Mexico is the fires here are more “explosive” and “dangerous,” Burciaga said.

“You have to be more alert, but other than that, it’s much the same,” he said.

READ MORE: Firefighters from Mexico making a 'huge impact' battling blaze near Osoyoos

The language barrier is another challenge, Burciaga said, but every crew has an interpreter to communicate with a supervisor.

The tools and resources used to fight fires are also the same, the main difference is that hand tools are used more in Mexico as they don’t use the same amount of water to fight fires as in B.C., Bustos said.

They keep coming back because it’s a chance to represent Mexico and work outside of the country.

“It’s a great honour and a pride that I definitely want to be a part of and continue to be a part of when I get the chance," Burciaga said.

Even after 21 years of fighting fires, Bustos said he’s still excited to tackle new blazes.

“I don’t know why, but it’s part of my life,” he said.

Now on days off, crews have been resting and camp staff have been making them Mexican food and playing Mexican music.

Burciaga has fought wildfires across Canada ranging back to 2016 in Alberta and in 2017 in both B.C. and Ontario. He’s been firefighting since 2009 and lives in Durango in northern Mexico.

“I just like the outdoors. I like the camaraderie with the guys and working as a team, just being part of something that makes a difference more than anything,” he said.

Firefighters from Mexico are assisting the B.C. Wildfire Service with battling the Nk'Mip Creek.
Firefighters from Mexico are assisting the B.C. Wildfire Service with battling the Nk'Mip Creek.
Image Credit: B.C. Wildfire Service

For Rojas Gomez, it is his sixth time fighting fires across the country with firefighting experience dating back to 2000. He lives in Guadalajara. It’s also not Bustos’ first time firefighting in Canada as he's been in Canada on and off since 2005 and has been a firefighter. He lives in Jalisco in southwestern Mexico.

“We’re really, really happy to be here and being able to help Canadians,” Burciaga said.

The trio thanked everyone in B.C. and Canada for the opportunity to be here.

Starting Wednesday, the Mexican crew will return to assist with wildfires in the Okanagan complex, which includes the Thomas Creek wildfire near Okanagan Falls and the Nk'Mip Creek wildfire.

This year, there has been a total of 1,450 wildfires reported across the province with 644,411 hectares burned so far.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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