Blue River Fire Department provides resources to Clearwater

Blue River Volunteer Fire Fighter Mary Catherine Vecko and Chief Gabriel Lavoie take a break behind the Clearwater Fire Department at their temporary camp. / MARY CATHERINE VECKO

Our resources are available due to good fortune: Fire Chief

by EVAN MATTHEWS

As the valley continues to avert major fires, its rural communities have been finding ways to help. The Blue River Volunteer Fire Department is the most recent example.

Arriving on Saturday, Jul. 15, a team made up of three Blue River firefighters and one bush truck arrived in Clearwater to aid another volunteer run fire department. On Monday, Jul. 17, a fourth Blue River firefighter came to relieve one of the others.

“Blue River is doing just fine, and it’s why we had resources to spare. We left seven people behind to keep their thumb on the pulse of things, and have more than enough people to staff a full fire department,” says Blue River Fire Chief Gabriel Lavoie.

“Plus, we’re only an hour away,” he says.

On Jul. 7, a lightning strike caused a fire along the east side of Dunn Lake Road.

By Jul. 12, the blaze had grown to roughly 3,000-hectares, subsequently causing the B.C. Wildfire service to issue an Evacuation Order for properties on Clearwater’s Windpass Road and Dunn Lake Road.

However, despite the Jul. 12 Evacuation Order, many Windpass Road and Dunn Lake Road residents have stayed in their homes against the direct advisement of the Regional District of Thompson-Nicola.

Thermal imaging cameras aren’t meant for long-range use, but they can see through smoke to a certain amount, according to Fire Chief Lavoie. Fire crews hadn’t seen the Dunn Lake Road fire for two days when this photo was taken due to the smoke. Gabriel Lavoie is seen here, as crews were trying to figure out what they were up against. / MARY CATHERINE VECKO

“There are some parts of the road not really affected yet, and they still have power. The far end of Dunn Lake Road has no power, but there is still a few people staying there, too,” says Lavoie.

“The policy at the roadblocks is you can leave at any time, obviously, but you can’t get back in,” he says.

Due to quick work by fire crews, the blaze is now roughly 80 per cent contained, according to Lavoie, and is listed on the B.C. Wildfire Service as a “Wildfire of note,” meaning crews from Blue River can head home.

Wildfires of note are highly visible fires or fires posing a potential threat to public safety, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service.

“We’re standing down. The fire is looking good; the crews have been hitting it pretty hard,” says Lavoie.

“Crews put in a lot guards put in almost three days ago now, and they did a great job. We’ve been monitoring it because there are houses on the west side of Dunn Lake Road, and the fire is coming down the hill on the east side,” he says.

When Blue River crews arrived on Jul. 15, Lavoie says the town was in an all out panic. Blue River crews covered the night shift, working from 8 PM to 8 AM.

“It’s nice when we can come in and commit to that full-time shift as needed, whereas their volunteers all have to work the next day,” says Lavoie.

“It’s definitely tough being volunteer based,” he says.

Lavoie says all of the stores and restaurants were closed — including the Tim Hortons to the dismay of the crews — and even after the stores re-opened after a couple of days, Clearwater was then under a Provincial Boil Water Advisory, he says.

On the first night, Blue River Volunteer Fire Department members set up tents behind the Clearwater Fire Hall, labeling their tents Hall 2 and Hall 3. / MARY CATHERINE VECKO

“The advisory made it really difficult, again, for businesses,” says Lavoie, adding the firefighters were very well taken care of despite the lack of restaurants.

“We had a lot of people coming into the fire hall bringing us everything from coffee to every pastry under the sun. Clearwater firefighters were bringing in chili, and we had a BBQ last night for everyone who was working,” he says.

Thankfully food wasn’t a challenge, but the accommodations weren’t so lavish. But Lavoie says they made it work.

On the first night, Blue River crew members slept in tents — labeled (Fire) Hall Two and Three — while on the second night each member slept inside the Clearwater Fire Trucks parked inside the garage. On the third night, they found some camping cots and managed to sleep inside the fire hall with air conditioning.

“We were offered a hotel room in Blackpool, but it was just easier to be here,” says Lavoie.

“But we’re looking forward to a night at home, too. If they need us though, we’re already packed and on call,” he says.

Quick action by fire crews resulted in no residences being lost, according to Lavoie, with a few outbuildings being the exception.

On the second night, Vecko and Lavoie each stretched out inside the Clearwater Fire Departments trucks, which were sitting in the garage. The next night the duo acquired cots, and managed to sleep inside with air conditioning. / MARY CATHERINE VECKO

An outbuilding is a building, such as a shed, barn, or garage, on the same property but separate from a more important one, such as a house.

While the evacuation order remains in place, things in Clearwater are slowly returning to normal, Lavoie says.

The Merritt Fire Department was also in Clearwater. After finishing their shift on Jul. 19, the Merritt department will head to Williams Lake the following day.

As of Wednesday, Jul. 19, there are three active fires burning between Clearwater and Kamloops.

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