We need more people fighting wildfires

We need more people fighting wildfires

I am a 79-year-old retired forest service employee. My long suit was fire suppression

To the editor;

UBC professor Lori Daniels said we had wildfire wake-up calls in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and now in 2017, the latter being worst firefighting failure in B.C.’s history.

I am a 79-year-old retired forest service employee. My long suit was fire suppression. I have been writing letters to the premier, starting with Gordon Campbell in 2003, all to no avail, but this year’s response took the cake.

I received a two-page glowing report from a PR person that made this year’s fire control efforts appear fantastic. Here is a sentence right out of her letter: “Confronted by an average of 2,000 wildfires each year, highly trained provincial fire crews were successful in containing 94 per cent of all wildfires in B.C. by 10 a.m. the following day.”

Was she watching the same evening news as me? Our forest firefighting capabilities are grossly understaffed, undertrained and underfunded.

Consider this: we brought in firefighters from all over Canada, Mexico and Australia, plus fire trucks from all over. We enlisted the help of our military, hundreds of extra police officers and the regional districts to assist our totally overwhelmed fire-control officers.

I saw very little control in our fire control centres.

Most of what I have read as a remedy comes from the Filmon report and/or references to it. Please search it on Google. It has nothing to do with fire suppression and deals mainly with cleaning up around towns and homes. This is not the problem. The problem is we have a forest firefighting force that has been continuously reduced ever since the forest ranger era ended abruptly in 1980.

Some, including the Filmon report, blame the problem on us. It seems by putting out all the fires, we have created a problem of too much fuel on the ground, causing the problems of today. Believe me, that is not what is causing the problems of today. Firefighting fundamentals are simple: early detection and fast, adequate, initial attack. They are falling painfully short of this goal.

I fought hundreds of fires, most of which were less than a tenth of a hectare. From the news reports I hear, blazes are at least five hectares in size when they get on them.

From 1973 to 1980, I was on the Ashcroft ranger staff, along with six other full-timers and a 10-man fire-suppression crew. We averaged 135 fires a year and the biggest during that time was five hectares. Now they expect the volunteer fire department to do the job, which is hardly fair to those wonderful, dedicated people.

At a time when global warming is making the job much more difficult, we need more qualified people, not fewer.

We also need another Filmon Report, but this time focused on fire suppression and made up of forest industry personnel and people with fire experience. If left on its own, our government will do nothing.

Larry Russell

Kamloops, B.C.