British Columbia

Mitigating disaster: teens spend summer in forest preventing wildfires

While crews continue to battle B.C. blazes, seven students are spending their summer working in the forest to prevent wildfires. They were selected to be part of Logan Lake's Wildfire Mitigation program, which is the first of its kind in the country.

'It feels like I'm making a difference,' says student

Seven teens were chosen to be part of a wildfire mitigation program in Logan Lake, B.C. (Mike McArthur / CBC)

As hundreds of firefighters battle B.C. wildfires, a handful of teens are spending their summer in the forest, working to prevent those fires from starting in the first place.

It's part of a wildfire mitigation program in Logan Lake, a small town in the B.C. Interior, about 50 kilometres southeast of the Ashcroft fire.

The student-based fire prevention program began in 2013 and is jointly run through the local district and the YMCA.

"This is the biggest bang for any taxpayers buck," said Rod Wilkins, fire officer with the Logan Lake fire department.

"The kids get something out of it, and we're protected."

Logan Lake is the first community in Canada to have a fire mitigation program. It's funded partially through the municipal and provincial governments and the students are paid for their work.

Officials say the pay-off is immeasurable.

"If we can do a little bit of work to slow down a fire, we won't have the expenses you're seeing now fighting the fires throughout the province," said Wilkins.

The high schools students work in the forest cutting dead branches and clearing underbrush to prevent future wildfires. (Mike McArthur / CBC)

This year's team is made up of seven local students aged between 14 and 18. They all applied to be part of the program, which runs for eight weeks through July and August.

The teens arrive at the site everyday at 7 a.m. and work until 3 p.m. when the heat reaches its peak.

Serious job

"We're pruning the live trees, cutting the branches up to three metres high," said Christian Holmstrup, 16. "Then we're cutting down any dead trees smaller than about six inches thick."

Spending eight hours together out in the back-country, five days a week, for two months straight has built friendships too.

"These are the boys. We know each other pretty well. They've been my friends for quite some time," said Holmstrup.

But the students also take the job seriously. Holmstrup sees it as a privilege — and duty — to protect his community.

"It feels good. It feels like I'm doing some good work for the town. It feels like I'm making a difference."