Parachute teams deployed to battle Okanagan wildfires | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Parachute teams deployed to battle Okanagan wildfires

Smokejumpers prepare for the drop zone, to be followed by an equipment drop that will allow them to stay in the bush and fight a wildfire for up to 72 hours.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED

PENTICTON - A group of professional wildfire fighters rarely seen in the Okanagan dropped in to assist with two new fires that ignited on the weekend.

B.C. Wildfire information officer Tom Reinboldt says several parattack crews or 'smokejumpers' are assisting with the Finlay Creek and Greyback Mountain fires.

Reinboldt says four parattack crews were deployed Saturday and Sunday, with five personnel on the Finlay Creek fire and six who parachuted into the Greyback fire, northeast of Penticton.

Smokejumpers aren’t normally deployed in southern B.C., mainly due to the fact there is more than enough work in the north to keep them occupied in a given fire season.

Reinboldt says the province has 46 active smokejumpers, based out of Fort St. John, who are normally used to cover fires in the north so other crews can be freed up to work other fires in the province.

“The role of a smokejumper is initial attack, to get to a fire while it’s still small and hit them early,” he says.

Smokejumpers are equipped with food and water for 48 hours, tents, sleeping bags, chain saws, fire pumps and a mile of firehose for each crew member. The parattack crew jumps from 1,500 feet with their equipment following, dropped at 250 to 300 feet.

The crews generally stay at the fire scene until it’s out. Reinboldt says average deployment is from 48 to 72 hours in duration, but if crews need to stay longer, resupply drops can be made.

The weekend’s paraattack deployment in the Okanagan utilized a refurbished turbine powered DC-3 aircraft.

Reinboldt says crews can reach any part of the province in two hours in the fast aircraft, which carries enough fuel for a five hour flight.

He says public perception of the smokejumpers' job is the crews are only used in remote situations.

“It’s not always the case. It all depends on the fire, and where it is located,” he says, adding crews adapt to each fire situation and are able to jump into dense brush, meadows, or onto roads if necessary.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 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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