COURTENAY, B.C. – Local firefighters are heading to wildfire ravaged Fort St. James this week.
A crew from the Courtenay Fire Department left this morning (Tuesday) for B.C.’s interior where, for the second year in the row, they will be answering the province’s call to assist with the fight against wildfires.
The Fort St. James District has issued a State of Local Emergency due to the Shovel Lake Wildfire, and area residents are under an evacuation alert.
This year, four Courtenay firefighters along with equipment, a pumper truck, and a small pickup truck will be in Fort St. James.
Deputy Fire Chief Kurt MacDonald explained what the local firefighters will be tasked with in the interior town.
“We’re going out there for structural protection,” MacDonald told MyComoxValleyNow.com.
“You could have communities that are bordering on forested areas that are on fire at this time. We’re going out there to protect the houses from the fire advancing into those areas.”
The Courtenay contingent will be “fire-smarting homes,” or dragging combustibles away from structures to ensure fire doesn’t travel up yards and catch such items as wood piles.
They’ll also be wetting down hotspots and ensure homes’ roofs stay wet.
Closer to home, MacDonald said the department’s first priority is its own community and fire protection districts, assuring that “adequate resources remain in place here in Courtenay.”
“We make sure that we’ve got our bases covered at home,” MacDonald said. “We make sure that we’ve got enough people who are going to be around on the weekends and that we are going to be able to deliver the service that our taxpayers are paying for. If we have the resources that are available to go up to these locations, then by all means we’re more than happy to help, but our top priority is making sure our community is protected.”
Macdonald said the Courtenay department’s experience in the B.C. Interior last year will serve them well this year.
“Last year, we had a series of crews assist with wildfires in the Williams Lake area,” noted MacDonald. “Not only did our crews perform important work in the area, they also gained valuable skills.”
MacDonald was one of the local firefighters who assisted across the province last summer.
“Last year we were all over the map,” he said.
Courtenay firefighters helped out in Vernon, Clinton, and Williams Lake in the summer of 2017.
“Probably the Williams Lake and the Clinton deployments were the longest,” MacDonald said. “They were good experiences. Our crews learned a lot of techniques and experienced a lot of things.”
MacDonald said there are forested areas in the Comox Valley that “we provide a response to.”
“We did a learn a lot of better ways of dealing with fires in these areas,” he added. “So there’s a lot of knowledge and experience that you gain through participating in these events which is huge for this department.”
Touch wood, MacDonald said, the Comox Valley has been fortunate to be out of the wildfire zone so far.
But he says there are lots of things residents can do to prevent fires from happening: “Making sure their properties are clean, keeping woodpiles away from their houses, trying their best to keep the grass as green as they can, (to) slow down the spread of fire.”