Cathy and Woody Winkelmann made up a poster to show Prince George how grateful they were during their evacuation to that city. For their story see Page 3.

VIDEO: B.C. fire crews return home after month-long wildfire battle

Surrey firefighters have been dousing fire threatened homes

A row of shiny fire trucks lines the fields in front of the Williams Lake curling rink. Oyster Bay, New Westminster, Salt Spring Island and, behind them all, a trailer with the Surrey Fire Service logo.

The Surrey crew has been here for almost a month, said assistant fire chief Chris Keon.

“We were sent to Williams Lake to assist the Williams Lake Fire Department in protecting the town against wildfire threats,” Keon said Wednesday afternoon. “Since then, the threat has subsided a bit.”

Williams Lake itself was under evacuation order for two weeks in July. The order was downgraded to an alert on July 27 but the air remains filled with smoke and the city smells like a particularly pungent campfire.

Surrey Fire Service assistant fire chief Chris Keon speaks with Williams Lake resident Woody Winkelmann about the firefighting efforts. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

On a good day, you can see the surrounding mountains. On a bad one, it’s just all one big hazy blur.

Williams Lake remains surrounded by aggressive wildfires; as of mid-week, the Wildwood fire sat at 12,684 hectares and the White Lake fire at 13,192 hectares. Smaller fires of several thousand hectares, like the Prouton Lake fire 40 kilometres northeast of the city, still threaten dozens of homes in the Cariboo.

READ: Evacuation order lifted for Williams Lake

Although the fires have subsided somewhat, officials warn that they could flare up again at any moment. Dozens of homes in and around town have loaded cargo trailers sitting in the yards, ready to evacuate again.

The Surrey fire crew, comprising Keon and Geoff McIntyre, is manning the mobile command unit: basically, a mini fire hall on wheels that they can hitch onto a semi.

The mobile command unit set up at the Williams Lake curling rink. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

“We can hook it up and move it at a moment’s notice, if it is threatened, and set it up elsewhere,” Keon said, noting it’s stocked with satellite phones and radio communications tools – key tools out in rural interior B.C., where leaving town can also mean leaving cell range.

“We’ve used it primarily for tracking our crews and for filling out time-sheets and different documentation.”

But they, and the rest of the fire departments – from Delta to Langley to Abbotsford – didn’t come up to Williams Lake to fill out paperwork.

RELATED: Delta sending staff and first responders to help fight B.C. wildfires

They run the structural protection units brought in from Ontario last month to help wet down the homes near the wildfires.

“The fire threat was coming from a place called Soda Creek Road,” said Keon. “So from the start we’ve been out there helping the sprinkler units deploy the (apparatus) and put them around different homes that are up that road.”

Firefighters set up sprinkler protection units in the Cariboo. (Angie Mindus photo)

The structural protection teams, Keon said, are run through the Office of the Fire Commissioner, who will deploy them across B.C. as needed. These, however, are from Ontario, sent to help with B.C.’s second worst wildfire season in recorded history.

RELATED: Wildfire evacuee was ‘treated like royalty’

They didn’t get to all the homes; in 150 Mile House, just outside of Williams Lake, police tape surrounds a burned-out car and what looks like lawn chair remnants sitting in a charred clearing.

A burnt out car and leftover furniture litter a fire-ravaged lot in 150 Mile House. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

But for now, it’s back home for at least the Surrey duo. Keon and McIntyre are leaving as of today (Thursday).

“The Wildwood fires fell short and didn’t threaten the city in the way they thought they might,” said Keon. “The rest of the [firefighting] task force is demobilizing in the next couple of days.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Province restricts non-resident travel to Haida Gwaii amid COVID outbreak

Provincial staff will help enforce travel restrictions from islands, mainland

Strong season but no market for B.C.’s spot prawn fishers

Sector hopeful low prices will catch the eye of local prawn lovers

Fairview Terminal expansion receives regulatory approval

DP World expects expansion will add 300 jobs at the Prince Rupert facility

Community outbreak of COVID-19 confirmed on Haida Gwaii

Contact tracing has confirmed a total of 13 cases, according to Northern Health

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

Most Read