100 Mile Fire Rescue mere minutes after they were first on scene getting to the Gustafsen fire on July 6. Max Winkelman photos.

100 Mile Fire Rescue gets first break since fire started

“We’re not out of the woods… so we’re not being complacent by any means”

The 100 Mile Fire Rescue, who were the first on site at the Gustafsen fire, are getting their first break.

“We’re getting our second wind here. This is the first day this morning that we’ve actually gone back to the hall. We’ve been going on since day one there on that Thursday 11:20 [a.m.] and we just got to the hall now. Men and women were staying at the hall until just recently and they’ve been allowed to go to their homes, but we’ve had crews on 24/7 at the two mills which were, of course, a big priority for town,” says Fire Chief Roger Hollander.

Related: July 17: Gustafsen fire 35 per cent contained

Hollander says they’ve also been able to help out in other areas.

“100 Mile Fire Rescue started assisting the 108 Volunteer Fire Department within the 108 before we even retreated back to 100 Mile. After our initial attack near the dump site there, once BC Wildfire sort of took over and assisted us we were able to over time we were able to redirect our resources to the 108 subdivision and then started to protect homes there. After things progressed to a point, we returned to our district boundaries and remained at the mill sites until today.”

Nonetheless, the main focus has been on 100 Mile and will be going forward, according to Hollander.

“Obviously our main focus is within the District of 100 Mile and of course with fires being so close we have to be very careful how we do that. We certainly assist locally, as we’ve done, and then of course long term if things continue, then from our department when that happens, then we would be also involved with helping provincially absolutely.”

The biggest priority has been public safety, says Hollander

“I think the most important thing is that the public was able to evacuate and exit the town in a safe and organized manner. Number one for me in the fire department is public safety.”

Hollander had earlier stated that he called for air support before even before getting to the fire due to the size of the smoke plume and the proximity to town.

“I’m happy with the decisions that were made by everybody including from within our department and within the District of 100 Mile and certainly wouldn’t change anything.”

All the equipment is just back at the hall now being re-accessed and washed and ready for other responses that they’ve been tasked with, according to Hollander.

At the mills, “we’ve been running 24/7 patrols and sprinkler protection units with the assistance of other local departments and other provincial departments along with the office of the fire commissioner. So we’ve been able to protect the mills and just started to turn over, in a very limited fashion, the mills this morning to a small group of employees so they’re maintaining fire watch now, which is very pleasing from our perspective.”

Hollander says he’s very proud of his crew and everybody who’s helped out so far, but that there’s still a ways to go.

“I couldn’t say enough about them and all the assistance that we’ve received thus far. There’s a huge list that I have to thank at another time, but crews are in good spirit and looking to continue the fight. We’re not out of the woods, so to speak at this point, there are hazards and dangers around so we’re not being complacent by any means. We have to maintain our situational awareness here and take nothing for granted. We’re prepared we’re ready equipment is in top shape and we’ll get through this no matter what.”

Regardless of when the next call may come, Hollander says he’s very proud of what his crew has achieved so far.

“I can’t say enough about this department and these men and women that are paid on call. [We’ve had] ups and downs throughout the event, but morale has always stayed extremely high. A real professional group and like I say couldn’t be more proud to be the fire chief here with these men and women. They give it their all and the resiliency is just second to none.”