Gregg Archie firmly believes “the best way to fight fire is with fire.”
Archie, 54, is head of Canim Lake Band’s Fire Brigade Bravo 100, leading a crew that includes George Rosette, Owen Peters, Kyle Sellars and Brody Theodore. As a Type 3 Unit crew, Archie and his crew tend to work in support roles rather than being the first line of defence.
However, they’ve still played a key role in fighting fires at Churn Creek, Gang Ranch and south of Canim Lake. Over the past few weeks, he and his crew have conducted a number of controlled burns near the wildfires, aiming to starve them of fuel so they have nowhere to grow. To conduct a burn safely, Archie said he and his crew hand light potential fuel sources with a drip torch.
“We’ve been on the Canim Lake fire for the last week here and we burned on some pretty steep slopes. Our igniter, he goes up and strategically places small spot fires that will all join into one big fire that won’t build too vigorously,” Archie said. “It all depends on the size you want to burn, really, but if you have the proper winds and good fuel (it can be pretty quick.) The burnoff we did recently was about five to seven hectares and we just did that in an afternoon.”
Born and raised in Canim Lake, Archie has been fighting wildfires in some capacity since 1990. He started out on some contract crews before working for the then-Ministry of Forests. After helping to found the 100 Mile Stormriders, he became their crew leader from 1994 to 2001, resigning in 2003. Since then, Archie and his wife Tami have operated New Era Falling and Forestry, out of the Canim Lake Band.
“It was something I enjoyed when I got into it at a young age,” Archie said of firefighting. “I love the science of it all. The weather, how different kinds of fuel burn, the slopes… to be able to read it all and put it all together and realize what a fire can do (is fascinating.)”
Prior to this year’s fire season, Archie and his company were working on fuel mitigation for the District of 100 Mile House. Right now his team has been contracted by Sean O’Neill, of the DBA Fire Brigade, to battle the fires.
His fire brigade is split into two teams that can operate independently from one another for up to 24 hours. Fire Brigade Bravo 101 is led by Dave Atkinson and made up of Brad Kriwtschenko, Tanner Hooper, Brandon Frank and Kyle Plummer. More than half of Archie’s crew are also members of his family. He said to be fighting these fires with his son, nephews and brother is like “nothing he’s ever dreamt of.”
His crew members are working 12-16 hour days, two weeks on with four days off. In Archie’s experience, having good crew camaraderie is key to success when fighting a wildfire. As their leader, it’s up to him to know all their strengths and weaknesses and how best to utilize them. If they can come out of a 14-day shift with no injuries or problems, he said that makes for a successful crew.
“The majority of my crew (this year), six of them, is what we call greenhorns. Then we got four older guys including myself, Owen Peters, George Rosette and Dave Atkinson who have been training them up and getting them ready for a crew,” Archie said.
“We’re training up a bunch of guys who look pretty promising to be leaders in the future firefighting industry. I hope they take the wealth of knowledge in front of them and do the best they can with it.”
Archie said the controlled burns have been really helpful for the ground crews working directly on the fire line. Another task he and his team take care of is danger tree assessment and felling, which is its own challenging entity, Archie said, that “ain’t for the faint of heart.”
As his crew’s danger tree feller, Archie is responsible for felling any trees that could potentially fall on firefighters or equipment. Along with his trusty chainsaw, which he calls Bubbles, he’ll fell any trees that are liable to fall if they get burned, have a dead top or are supporting widowmakers. He always has his head on a swivel looking for potential hazards.
Archie said one advantage of fighting fires in his own backyard is that he can see his family at night. While fighting the fires in 2017, Archie never slept anywhere but his own bed, which was unusual for him. Typically when he’s out fighting fires he sleeps in camps away from home, so this is a welcome change of pace.
“You just walk out the door, kiss them all and say have a good day and then come home and they’re happy to see you. It’s a good feeling.”