With more than 230 wildfires already having consumed more than 400 square kilometers of forest and grassland and having forced the evacuation of some 14,000 residents of B.C.’s Interior, the province remains under a state of emergency declared on Friday (July 7).
The disastrous situation has now touched the Saanich Peninsula, not with flames but with an urgent call for help; a call to which most fire departments are responding.
Brett Mikkelson, the Chief of the Sidney Fire Department reported that, in response to a call for assistance from the Province, Sidney will be sending an engine company (that’s one pumper truck and a crew of five fire fighters) to the Williams Lake region to help with fire fighting efforts there. The company is leaving almost immediately and have no real idea for how long they will be deployed.
“That’s entirely situational. In 2003 there was a similar call-out and I was one of the fire fighters who responded at that time. We were out there for about six days, but you never really know,” said Mikkelson.
North Saanich Fire Chief John Trelford said his department is also sending a pumper truck and five fire fighters to Williams Lake — and they were expected to be on the 5 p.m. ferry off the Island today.
“The fires have not yet made it to that city,” Trelford said, adding the crew will find its way to Williams Lake’s fairgrounds for marshalling and will be used where they’re needed.
He said he expects the local fire fighters will aid in preventing structure fires in the Cariboo city — or fight fires if they hit the community. Trelford added North Saanich also last sent fire fighters out of he area during the Kelowna wildfire in 2003.
While the emergency deployment does stretch the capabilities of those left behind, Mikkelson explained that the chiefs of all the Peninsula fire departments have worked out protocols to ensure that the residents of their home communities are kept safe.
Chris Vrabel, the Chief of Central Saanich Fire, explained that his department would not be dedicating any men or equipment to the wildfire situation, based upon the need to ensure the safety of the communities on the Peninsula.
“Right now we’re not comfortable sending any men or equipment, although we have been offered some seats on the companies that are going and I have had a number of our fire fighters volunteer to go, so that situation may change,” said Vrabel.
The response protocols developed for this extraordinary situation will involve all three municipal departments responding to every fire call to ensure enough resources are deployed.