When lightning struck the Lone Butte quarry on June 30, local firefighters were there within eight minutes.
But given the long hot, dry summer, the fire was already crowning. Properties were given notice to evacuate while 13 of the 16-member crew quickly got to work. In some respects, the department was lucky: with the fire being one of the first in the South Cariboo, they got a quick response from BC Wildfire Service, which provided three skimmers and a retardant bomber to try and suppress it.
Local crews continued to work the fire, racking up 17 hours days. Three days later, they were called to another fire, on Crown land at Ryall and Garrett roads, which was already “burning into no man’s land” by the time they got there. BC Wildfire knocked down the head of the fire but the Lone Butte crew was needed to keep an eye on the blaze. From June 30, they worked for a solid six days monitoring the fire or building guards.
“We ended up having to be there most of the time. We had some long days for sure,” said John Grieve, chief of the Lone Butte Volunteer Fire Department. “It was great working with wildland. You could tell there had been some progress from 2017 working together. That was good for us in achieving no structures lost.”
While the wildfires triggered some stress and evacuation of properties in the area, they also sparked some positives. People donated food and goodies to the hall, while Grieve said the crews were grateful for the support from the public, which put up signs on telephone poles or driveways to show their appreciation. “It all means a lot, the guys were deeply moved by it,” he said.
He also got several inquiries from people wanting to help fight the fires, adding 10 new recruits – both men and women of all ages – to the department.
“They’re great recruits and they’re there for the right reasons,” he said. “As chief, that’s the kind of person I want – someone who wants to help out and feel the need to be there. It’s been a win-win. We lost some trees but we didn’t lose any structures and we gained good people.”
With wildland fires set to become the norm in the future, Grieve said the fire halls have to step up and get involved. He said it’s imperative to re-evaluate budgets to ensure they have the equipment to fight these fires, rather than having to rely on firefighters from Mexico or Calgary.
He said his department received a Red Cross grant in 2017 for a slide-in unit and now they plan to do some fundraising for a truck. The unit has a large tank and built-in pump and hose reel, which would allow firefighters to drive into the bush and attack a fire. They could also share it with others in the community if needed.
Grieve said the department is also looking at increasing training among members so they can fight wildfires alongside BCWS.
“We can’t avoid it. We are seeing that wildland is obviously stretched thin so we have to step up,” he said. “Those guys are doing an amazing job, whether they’re a guy on the ground or a pilot in the air. I have nothing but good things to say about all of them.”
As for his own crew, Grieve said they didn’t hesitate to help. “I’m incredibly proud of the team I’ve got,” he said. “It makes my job easier when I can depend on them. They have heart.”