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Shuswap sees four fires in four days

Spray: A member of the Tappen/Sunnybrae Fire Department hoses down an area of burning grass at Recline Ridge Winery on April 15.  - photo contributed
Spray: A member of the Tappen/Sunnybrae Fire Department hoses down an area of burning grass at Recline Ridge Winery on April 15.
— image credit: photo contributed

The rain may have dampened some spirits at the start of the Easter long weekend, but tired Tappen/Sunnybrae firefighters were relieved.

Members of the paid on-call volunteer fire department had been called out to fight human-caused fires four days in a row.

Despite calls from fire officials to be careful when burning, firefighters were on the run.

Around 2 p.m. Sunday, April 13, Tappen Sunnybrae firefighters had responded to an out-of-control grass fire on Bolton Road in Tappen.

There was little rest as the hall was dispatched to Recline Ridge Winery at 12:34 p.m. Monday, April 14.

“The owners were burning clippings and the wind picked up, caught them and blew them into the grass,” says Tappen/Sunnybrae Fire Chief Kyle Schneider, noting four burn piles were involved. “The fire went up the hillside towards their house and was just on the fence line when we got there.”

Schneider says he was concerned that, with the strength of the wind, the fire might jump to the other side of the road where the Orica fuse plant is located.

“As we pulled the line off the truck, the wind died down,” he says. “We really got lucky. But it was a little more difficult because in the beginning we had limited manpower – only three of us.”

Schneider called for mutual aid from the White Lake Fire Department, but called back to ask them to stand down when five more of his own showed up.

“We’re tired, very tired, a little frustrated and happy to see this rain,” he said last Thursday. “We’ve got a small crew of retired people and the rest are able to leave their jobs. We have some really nice employers.”

Another slash-grass burn on Tuesday around 1:30 had White Lake firefighters hopping.

“The burn in the 3300 block of White Lake Road got away and was moving up the mountain side,” says Columbia Shuswap Regional District Fire Services Co-ordinator Kenn Mount. “We did advise forestry and had assistance from the Tappen/Sunnybrae Department.

“It got about an acre into the bush and the incident commander did tell me we had some trees candling.”

Mount says the Kamloops Fire Centre was informed when the fire reached two hectares in size.

Forestry threw some guards around the fire to make sure it didn’t spread and crews were back in quarters by 4:15 p.m.

Another potentially dangerous fire occurred on Wednesday and was extinguished quickly but caused real concern.

Schneider says his firefighters were called out at 2:35 p.m. April 16 for a brush fire near the Tappen Co-op on the Trans-Canada Highway.

“They handled it quick; they were on it really fast,” he says, noting the suspicion is the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette. “They were on it within 10 minutes and had it out within 45 minutes.”

Schneider says the fire grew to about 10 to 15 square metres, with smoke blowing across the highway.

“It gave us a scare initially because it was moving toward the gas station and the parking lot was filled with smoke,” he says. “The wind was blowing like crazy. We got behind the fire and there were also hydrants back there, which helped a lot.”

Like Schneider, Mount was delighted to wake up to wet weather on Thursday.

“I had a smile on my face, I was actually happy and relaxed,” he says, offering kudos to the electoral Area C South Shuswap fire departments whose firefighters are proving to be adept at switching from structural to wildfires.

In the meantime, Mount and Schneider are asking residents to make sure they get a burn registration number from bcwildfire.ca, follow provincial fire regulations and advise their local fire departments when they are going to burn.

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