Al Boyce was at Grizzly lookout watching the lightning storm on June 30 when he saw the fire start at Deka Lake.
The fire chief of the Deka Lake and District Volunteer Fire Department rushed home, grabbed some water cans and shovels and jumped in a side-by-side to see what he could do.
“It started pretty much in a spot that was difficult for our trucks to access,” he said, noting it was in the woods, off the side roads, about one kilometre from his house. “By the time we got there, it was pretty ginormous.”
Boyce radioed his crew to go to Judson Road, where another fire had broken out, while he headed to the hall to deal with logistics.
The BC Wildfire Service, meanwhile, was surveying the Deka fire by helicopter, which “definitely gave us peace of mind to see they were aware of it,” he said. “It was pretty intense.”
Shortly after, Deka Lake and Judson Road were under evacuation alert. The following day, 100 Mile RCMP, South Cariboo Search and Rescue and 100 Mile Fire Rescue members headed to Deka to launch a tactical evacuation – telling residents to leave immediately – because the fires were a threat to their safety.
Boyce said 100 Mile Fire Rescue was at Deka “instantly to support us,” with early sprinkling protection and patrols while neighbouring fire crews, including the 108 Mile and Interlakes volunteer fire departments, were also a huge help until BCWS structure crews and firefighters arrived.
“Everybody that wasn’t busy dealing with wildfires was here in a heartbeat,” he said.
Deka Lake residents were out of their homes for eight days as BC Wildfire crews did everything they could to suppress the “fire of note.” When the fire was finally held – at 650 hectares – on July 8 and the evacuation lifted, residents gave the Deka Lake and District Volunteer Fire Department a standing ovation.
“We were lucky with the support we had from BC Wildfire Service and Structure Protection and the Fire Commission,” Boyce said.
He also credited the local fire departments, Deka residents and Cariboo Regional District and thanked the Ladies Auxiliary and the general public – including people from Sulphurous Lake – who kept firefighters fed and hydrated.
“It really showed a sense of community,” he said.
But while the smoke has dissipated, Boyce added there’s still work to be done. The wildfires were an “eye-opener,” he said, noting besides Deka and Judson, the Drewry wildfire was also posing threats of joining with the South Canim Lake blaze.
The 20-member department is now readying for next season by working in the community on fire smart efforts, to take place next spring. It also recently got a new engine this year and hopes to have a new water tender in 2022.