White Rock firefighters aid wildfire effort

White Rock firefighters answered the call for service after wildfires in the interior caused the province to declared a state of emergency Wednesday.

More than 560 wildfires have been burning across B.C. as of Aug. 14, initiating 29 evacuation orders affecting more than 3,000 people, and 48 evacuation alerts affecting nearly 19,000 people.

Three firefighters from the White Rock department and one fire-fighting apparatus was deployed Tuesday morning to Fort St. James, and have since been relocated to Burns Lake, deputy fire Chief Ed Wolfe told Peace Arch News Wednesday.

The Shovel Lake wildfire, burning northeast of Burns Lake, is currently the largest active fire in the province, surpassing more than 50,000 hectares. Burns Lake is located nearly 1,000 kilometres north of White Rock.

White Rock firefighters will spend six days in Burns Lake, before a relief crew of another three firefighters are sent to replace them on Aug. 19.

“It’s kind of a wait-and-see situation,” Wolfe said. “I suspect we will be deploying crews as long as there is a state of emergency.”

Wolfe said the local firefighters are selected on a volunteer basis, and that “it’s not a problem finding guys who volunteer to go.”

“We don’t force anybody, by any stretch of the imagination,” Wolfe added. “We certainly have a lot of willing participants, let’s put it that way.”

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Surrey Fire Service assistant fire Chief Chris Keon told PAN Wednesday that that department received a call for help Tuesday. He said the service is still going over its resources to see if and when the department might be able to send aid.

This year marks the fourth time that a state of emergency has ever been called during fire season.

BC Wildfire chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said that this year, $214 million has been spent to fight 1,821 fires that have burned up 381,000 hectares of the province’s forests.

Monday, federal public safety minister Ralph Goodale said Ottawa would send 200 Canadian Forces troops to help. They will likely be tasked with “grunt work,” Skrepnek added.

Wednesday’s state of emergency will last for 14 days, at which time it can be renewed.

Locally, the dry, warm temperatures have caused some grief for the White Rock Fire Department.

Wolfe said an insulator exploded off a power line last Friday, causing a brush fire at the corner of Thrift Avenue and Foster Street.

“That’s how dry it is. Just a piece of porcelain blew up off the power-line, dropped to the ground and caught the ground on fire,” Wolfe said.

He said the department has responded to “some small brush fires,” but not an unusual number for this time of the year.

– with files from Katya Slepian

Aaron Hinks

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Aaron Hinks

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