More falls, serious incidents happening as B.C. wildfire crews become fatigued | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

Would you like to subscribe to our newsletter?

Current Conditions Clear  10.0°C

Kelowna News

More falls, serious incidents happening as B.C. wildfire crews become fatigued

FILE PHOTO - Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth provides a wildfire update, Aug. 6, 2021.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Province of B.C.

With an extended wildfire season, more firefighters are becoming fatigued and the B.C. Wildfire Service is seeing more safety concerns among crew members.

“Fatigue is something we have a concern with. It’s been a long summer for many of our firefighters and staff supporting the efforts. With that increased fatigue we’re starting to see more safety concerns come forward. More slips, trips, falls, those types of events as well as other serious occurrences are happening,” said Todd Nessman, manager of fire operations, BC Wildfire Service, during a press conference today, Aug. 19.

The service is continuing to monitor the situation, Nessman said, as the service will be losing crew numbers and contractors with the impending drop off of personnel going back to post-secondary school in September.

He also acknowledged the rallies of support he’s seen among British Columbians who have been sharing positive messages around social media and at wildfire camps showing their gratitude. This week, Vernon residents have started holding up signs, and cheering as firefighters arrived back to their base at Kal Tire Place. A parade is planned tonight in West Kelowna.

READ MORE: Parade planned in West Kelowna to thank firefighters

“It’s hit home for a lot of them and they greatly appreciate it,” Nessman said.

There hasn't been any serious injuries or accidents due to fatigue among crews, he said.

While temperatures have been favourable over the last few days for fire crews “we’re nowhere near out of the woods,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

“This has been a difficult fire season for many of our traditional mutual aid partners,” he said, adding the province has been relying on resources from across the country, as well as Mexico and Australia to support firefighting efforts.

There have been 1,520 wildfires reported this year with 852,000 hectares burned. Last week, wildfire crews responded to 54 fires, largely due to the weather patterns, averaging five to 10 wildfires a day, but they’ve done well in maintaining those, Nessman said.

There are roughly 3,800 personnel with 1,250 contractors working the fires, and the wildfire service recently received additional firefighters including 153 from Quebec, 45 from the Yukon as well as incident management teams from Parks Canada, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Nessman said accommodations have been a challenge for crews, especially in the Okanagan, and it's not uncommon for firefighters to be sent to hotels if they feel overly fatigued.

READ MORE: Logan Lake residents returning home; evacuation order downgraded to alert

The evacuation order in Logan Lake was downgraded to an alert today allowing residents to return home and officials said its FireSmart Community status, one of the first in Canada, played part in saving the community from wildfire. No structures were lost in the town.

"It's something the government has been promoting and working with local governments... not just with communities but with individuals and local cabin owners as well... that is very much part of the mitigation and recovery program that we want to see in place in terms of communities going forward," Farnsworth said.

FireSmart played a part, the weather pattern played a part and the response from local fire departments and the wildfire service helped save Logan Lake, Nessman said.

There are currently 28 states of local emergencies in the province, said Brendan Ralfs, director of response for Emergency Management B.C.

Tourists are being encouraged to travel to areas not impacted by wildfires.

READ MORE: Okanagan firefighter lost home to White Rock Lake wildfire

More than 500 RCMP officers have been deployed to communities impacted by wildfires, said Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, senior media relations officer with the RCMP.

There have been concerns about police not being at road checks, but they’ve been tasked with patrolling communities and looking for signs of criminality and assisting with evacuation orders, Shoihet said. So far, no signs of criminal activity have been found.

Crews have been making good progress on the Lytton Creek wildfire, but no update could be given on the status of the evacuation alert in place for Merritt.

“If it were to go to an evacuation order, evacuees at Merritt’s reception centre would be directed to other reception centres in the province," Farnworth said.

The province has been criticized after a memo was released between forestry executives and the wildfire service stating the service didn’t have sufficient resources in July.

Farnworth said the memo is an interpretation of a meeting taking place between the wildfire service and forestry companies and it refers to backcountry fires that are not impacting communities or structures and resources available for those fires.

Meetings between the forestry companies and the wildfire service have been ongoing as part of the recommendations from a 2017 report recommending more collaborations between the companies and wildfire service.

Forestry companies have been working with the BC Wildfire Service throughout the wildfire season and have stepped up, especially this year, he said.

"The focus is always on communities and interface fires," Farnworth said. "To suggest that the memo has indicted something is wrong is just erroneous."

— This story was updated at 4:33 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 to include additional comment from Mike Farnworth.

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.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.

News from © iNFOnews, 2021

  • Popular penticton News
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile