Military officer from P.E.I. battles B.C. wildfires

J.P. Wright is a major in the military. But for the last two weeks his enemy was fire.

J.P. Wright was part of mop-up crew preventing fire from spreading

Maj. J.P. Wright's company worked long days around Merritt, B.C., putting out hot spots from the wildfires. (Master Cpl. Gerald Cormier)

Maj. J.P. Wright is a military officer. But for the last two weeks his enemy was fire.

The Island native is a company commander with the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Edmonton.

With wildfires raging in British Columbia, Wright's company of 100 soldiers rotated in as part of the initial response unit.

After firefighters contained the fires, Wright's group came in to make sure the fire didn't spread.

'Today's enemy is the fire. We just have to fight that fire and we'll fight it the same way,' Wright said he told his soldiers. (@CONAFOR/Twitter)

That involved putting out hot spots, wetting down the area and digging a trench around the perimeter. They worked nine-hour days at minimum.

"It's fairly exhausting, back-breaking work, but it's stuff that has to be done, otherwise the fire would continue to spread after it was put out," Wright said.

'Quite an honour' to help Canadians

His company was relieved on Wednesday after two weeks of work near Merritt, B.C., which is near Kamloops.

"We weren't there long enough to get completely burned out."

As an officer, it was Wright's first experience fighting a fire.

"It was quite an honour to be able to do that and help Canadians in a more direct way," he said.

'Tough on the lungs'

"We were right beside a town that was being affected by the fires and we were able to be there for them and try to make a difference in their actual lives."

Residents were grateful for their help, Wright said. He was interviewed by the Merritt Herald, a local newspaper.

Soldiers from the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) search for and extinguish hot spots and burning material near Juliet Creek, B.C. (Master Cpl. Gerald Cormier)

When air quality got particularly bad, the soldiers put on respirators, but it was still "tough on the lungs," Wright said.

The mindset was just like fighting in war, he said.

"What infantry soldiers do primarily is we fight the enemy. The enemy can take a variety of forms.

'Today's enemy is the fire'

"In this case, I told my soldiers, 'Today's enemy is the fire. We just have to fight that fire and we'll fight it the same way.'"

Wright's company will now resume training, since they're on high readiness to be deployed in other situations in the future.

"We have to be ready to go anywhere, so we have a lot of training to accomplish, starting right away."

There are still hundreds of fires burning in B.C. Nearly 13,000 square kilometres had burned as of last week, breaking a record for the province set last year.

With files from Maggie Brown


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