100 Mile House Fire Rescue was called out 450 times in 2017. Staff photo.

How South Cariboo fire departments dealt with and were affected by last summer’s wildfires

‘We train for the what ifs.’

The 2017 wildfire season hit the South Cariboo hard. One year later, many people are still putting their lives back together.

But how were the men and women responsible for responding to the emergency affected?

How are the firefighters?

Brandon Bougie, of the 100 Mile Fire Rescue, said constant training and preparation gets them through any kind of emergency that arises.

“People’s misconception is that everybody panics and whatnot throughout the fires, but this is kind of what the emergency services train for.”

The assistant fire chief said each individual firefighter handled last summer differently, but that “most people really pulled together to do the job we had to do.”

The department isn’t doing anything differently to prepare for potential wildfires this summer, said Bougie. They continue to train and practice every day to prepare for the unexpected.

“Whether it be a 747 crash into town or somebody cuts off a finger, this is what fire depts train for,” he said. “We train for the what ifs.”

The biggest difference is that they fully understand what resources are available to them now and have developed a good working relationship with other agencies, like BC Wildfire.

RELATED: Industries rebounding in the South Cariboo after 2017 wildfires

On a personal level, Bougie said his mother was sick in Abbotsford Hospital during the wildfires and he couldn’t visit her until things were under control.

It was a lot to deal with, he admitted, but he remained task oriented because that’s the responsibility of the job.

“I’d like to say it takes a special kind of person to work in the emergency services.”

Terry Murphy, fire chief of the Lac la Hache Volunteer Fire Department, said they’ve adjusted some of their equipment and focus more on wildfire training now.

“In that sense, it’s a good thing and we’ve been practicing our grass fires and wildfires in advance of the season this spring,” he said.

The department always trained for wildfires, he said, but now they do it with more vigour.

Lac la Hache, of course, was in a unique position during the wildfires.

Towns to the north and south of them were evacuated and but they were not.

“For almost three weeks we were our own little island.”

RELATED: Mental health after the 2017 wildfires in the South Cariboo

Murphy said the town ran out of nearly every resource: food, gas, even medication.

They managed to facilitate an escort around the road blocks, so people could fill their prescriptions at a temporary pharmacy in Lone Butte.

He said residents pulled together, bringing meat from their deep freezers and produce from their gardens to the community club so residents could eat.

Many even opened their homes to shelter evacuees.

“We stuck together pretty good all in all.”

Since last summer, Murphy said the fire department has gotten three or four new recruits.

Tim Wasilieff, a volunteer firefighter for Hawkins Lake, said the department was hit pretty hard after the wildfires, which intensified the same week they typically have their annual fundraising picnic.

During an interview at the Forest Grove Legion on Tuesday, June 26, he told the Free Press that the community and many local organizations kicked in large donations this past year.

These donations, he said, “more than made up for the loss.”

Wasilieff expressed said he wanted to thank everyone for all their support in keeping the department afloat.


beth.audet@100milefreepress.net

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