P.E.I. firefighters return home after helping fight wildfires in B.C.
'Experience we gained securing a fire close to a major town should help us'
A group of Island firefighters who have been helping fight wildfires in B.C. have returned home.
- P.E.I. to send 12 forest firefighters to B.C.
- Evacuation order lifted for 264 households near Williams Lake, B.C.
A team of 11 local forest firefighters and a liason left for B.C. on July 17. The dozen were part of a team with members from Newfoundland and Labrador. All are employees with the province's Department of Communities, Land and Environment.
Nick Thompson who works as a provincial forest technician said he is grateful for the experience he and his team gained while helping contain the wildfires. He said they faced smoke-filled skies, hot, dry, dusty conditions during 13 hour days, and spent their nights in tents.
"The thing that stuck out the most was the smoky haze. You could look at the sun and not really even hurt your eyes, it was that strong," Thompson said.
Tall flames and intense smoke
"There were times where you would see some pretty tall flames, but the smoke columns were pretty intense and big. Even if there were none from our fire, you'd always see them from the surrounding fires around us," he said.
"I was pleased to help B.C. by working with firefighters from across the country."
The P.E.I. firefighters were assigned to the Gustafsen fire in the area of 100 Mile House, about 200 kilometres north of Kamloops, B.C. The team worked to secure the fire perimeter, identify hot spots, and extinguish deep-burn ash pits to prevent future flare-ups, according to a release from provincial officials.
There were times where you would see some pretty tall flames, but the smoke columns were pretty intense and big.— Nick Thompson, P.E.I. forest firefighter
"The experience we gained securing a fire close to a major town should help us if Prince Edward Island is ever faced with a similar situation," Thompson said.
"First couple days is usually the toughest, getting used to the terrain … The fire was burning deep in the ground so we could cover a section in one day and go back over the same section the very next day and still have lots of fires to put out."
For some, such as firefighter Jason MacEachern, it was their first experience with fires of this magnitude.
"There was a little bit or nervousness, but we're trained and prepared and I was excited to put our training and skills into practice," MacEachern said.
"You see the destruction and the effect it's having on the people and the wildlife and the landscape and you just get a much more better understanding of it when you're actually there," he said.
Largest group ever sent to national emergency, says province
"On behalf of all Islanders, I want to welcome our 12-person firefighting crew home and thank them for their efforts in western Canada," said Robert Mitchell, minister of Communities, Land and Environment.
"They played a pivotal role in containing the Gustafsen fire and have a great deal to be proud of," Mitchell said.
The Gustafsen fire was estimated to cover more than 6,000 hectares but is now being reported as 100 per cent contained, said a release from the province. Provincial officials said if there was another request from B.C., it would be considered. Right now there hasn't been another request.
This was the largest contingent of forest firefighters P.E.I. has ever sent to a national emergency, according to the province.