Local fire crews return home from battling B.C. blazes

Heather Latter

Several local fire crews with the Ministry of Natural Resources have returned home from battling fires in British Columbia—and they’ve brought back with them plenty of experience, skills, and the satisfaction of knowing they helped a community.
“We were bused to the fires and one day we stopped at Wal-Mart because some people were running low on supplies,” recalled Amanda Ringham, who has been deployed out of province once before.
“The people there were super grateful and kept thanking us for all our hard work.
“The fires were threatening their community. That’s something that doesn’t really happen here [in Ontario],” she noted.
“There is a feeling of satisfaction,” echoed Bryce Witherspoon. “At the end of a long day, it’s good to feel like you’ve done something.”
Ringham and Witherspoon’s crew returned home last Thursday evening after spending nearly three weeks in B.C. They were stationed at the Terrace Mountain fire near Kelowna, where positive progress has been made to contain the blaze that’s been burning since July 18.
The pair said they’ve learned a whole new set of skills from their experience in B.C. because firefighting there is different than in Ontario.
“It broadens your understanding of firefighting because we do things differently,” Ringham explained, citing the slope of mountain terrain as one major difference.
“Some crews were working on a 90 percent slope,” she stressed.
So how exactly do they manage on such a steep slope?
“You go really slowly,” Witherspoon remarked. “You get used to it. Eventually we get our legs under us. . . .
“They also prepared us by starting us on nothing too steep and working shorter days.”
The crews also faced different challenges because of the limited water that could be used to control the fire. Witherspoon said they used a lot of hand tools and heavy equipment.
“Here we have lakes, so when we were there we had to use different water sources,” Ringham explained. “It makes you realize how lucky we are to have the lakes as resources like we do.
“It seems more effective.”
As well, Ringham said the heat was particularly different than here in Ontario.
“It was really hot—not humid,” she indicated. “It was dry, dry heat up as high as 30 degrees.
“It was quite a shock when we first arrived,” she admitted.
“You learn to pace yourself more consciously,” echoed Witherspoon.
Safety also was important. They were evacuated from the area twice, and also had to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes and black widow spiders.
But the local crews were able to see some unique sights, too, such as viewing the coast line and then a desert-like area. They even came across some free-range cattle and mule deer.
At one point, some FireRangers watched a sky crane drop retardant onto the blaze.
“This electric blue gel was dropped down the side of the mountain. It was pretty cool to watch that fly,” Ringham recalled.
Harrold Boven, fire management supervisor in Fort Frances, noted no further requests had come in as of Monday morning to have any of the local crews return to B.C. to continue firefighting efforts there.