Firefighters with the Watch Lake-North Green Lake Fire Department were running on adrenaline when the wildfire struck the Cariboo this summer.
The 24-member crew were working day and night, since lightning first struck their community on June 30. Trained in fighting wildfires, the crew initially responded to the Watch Lake dump fire, but then kept the area clear and traffic under control for the next two days as BC Wildfire crews battled flare-ups in the bush.
They were then called out to assist BCWS with the Flat Lake fire, providing water and patrolling for spot fires, particularly around 83 Mile. The crew also helped out with pumps and hoses when needed, working two-hour shifts on patrol and four to six-hour shifts on tenders. In two instances, they responded when the wildfire jumped the highway.
Chief Andy Palaniak was not available for an interview last week but told the Free Press last summer his crew had been working for weeks straight. “It is tiring, but you just keep going because that’s what we’re here for. There’s an end in sight,” he said at the time. “Everyone is in it for the right reasons.”
As an independent society, the fire department is funded by grants and annual $200 fire dues, which are paid for by property owners, to cover the cost of fuel, hydro and own insurance, said Roy Allan, director and communications officer. However, Allan notes in recent years only about 80 per cent of the property owners are paying their dues and despite the recent threats this summer, the number remains low.
“Would you believe, with the Flat lake fire being the threat that it was, we still have 79 out of the 525 property owners who refuse to pay and still expect to have fire protection?” Allan said in an email.
He said the department plans to hold more training sessions for wildfire or interface fire fighting with BC Wildfire trainers next spring. The Watch Lake-North Green Lake receives remuneration for any work it does with BC Wildfire, which helps pays for specialized firefighting equipment.
The department earlier this year bought a new fire truck and has three tenders, two engines and two support vehicles, including a one-tonne pumper that can hold 250 gallons of water and an emergency transportation vehicle (EMT) to carry crew.
“We are well equipped with up-to-date vehicles and equipment, but, like all volunteer departments, we always need more recruits. To look at our roster, one would think we have a lot of members, but many of our people are getting on in age and wish to retire,” Allan said. “We need more young people to sign-up.”