British Columbia

Province to cut firefighter housing in town where rental market 'almost nil'

The mayor of Salmon Arm is concerned about the future of forest fire services in her area after the province confirmed it will cut housing and food for specialized firefighters. She says the rental market isn't big enough in her town for the personnel and worries the base will close.

Gov't confirms no more catering services for Rapattack in Jan. 2017, no more housing in 2018

Forest firefighting recruits dig a hand guard next to a fire during a training exercise during the summer of 2016. The mayor of Salmon Arm fears for the future of forest fire fighting in her town with the announced cutting of food and shelter for Rapattack firefighters. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The province will no longer provide food and shelter for specialized firefighters based in Salmon Arm, and that has Mayor Nancy Cooper concerned for the future of local firefighting.

The Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations confirmed it will stop providing catering services for Rapattack firefighters in Jan. 2017 and housing in 2018.

"It really does worry us. We live in a forest here, you know," Cooper told Radio West guest host Josh Pagé. "Our fear is that they will have to close the base and some of council just figure that's the way they're actually going."

Cooper says she and council spoke with Minister Steve Thomson at the UBCM Conference in Victoria last month, and as a result of their conversation was hopeful the Rapattack barracks would remain open.

She says it wasn't until reporters made inquiries this week about the closure that she realized she was wrong and the decision to make the cuts had been made on Oct. 2.

'Our fear is they just close the base'

Rapattack firefighters are deployed to fires where helicopters cannot land and other vehicles cannot access. They rappel in from helicopters to fight fires quickly and build helipads for future helicopter operations.

Salmon Arm is the only Rapattack base in B.C., but the Ministry says there are 33 communities with initial attack crews to handle forest fires.

In a statement, the Ministry said "a comprehensive review to ensure best use of taxpayers' dollars, and ... Salmon Arm no longer being a remote location" led to the decision to cut their services.

“It really does worry us. We live in a forest here, you know,” Mayor Nancy Cooper said. (CBC)

Cooper says without adequate housing, firefighters will probably have to seek rental accommodations.

That will be a challenge in a town where fire season also means tourism season.

"The rental housing market here right now is almost nil," she said. "For 30 people, … to find rental for six months or four months, depending on how long they're here, I think that will be very difficult."

"If they can't find rental housing what do they do? … Our fear is they just close the base."

Cooper says she and council will be trying to work with the government to reverse the decision.

With files from Josh Pagé and CBC Radio One's Radio West

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Province to cut firefighter housing in town where rental market 'almost nil'