Column: Access becoming an issue

Barb Brouwer

Let me start by saying I have enormous respect for Kamloops Fire Centre’s fire information officers. Long on the job and short of rest, it is understandable fire centre staff cannot remain connected to their phones 24-seven.

But justifiably anxious residents need to know if an area near them is burning.

Last Thursday morning at 7, I was made aware of a possible fire near the mill in Canoe.

A call to the Kamloops Centre netted a message that the media lines would open at 8 a.m. An hour is a long time to wait in the case of a fast-moving wildfire. Next, I called the local rapattack base and was referred to Vernon where management of the base is now located. From there, I was told to call the media line at the Kamloops Fire Centre.

Full circle.

Fortunately, I had access to Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley, who advised me that on the previous evening, someone out on the lake saw what they thought was smoke northeast of the Canoe mill. Wildfire BC, along with Salmon Arm Fire Department, did a search that turned up no fire.

But throughout the day, worried Shuswap residents continued to post their concerns about a fire near Canoe on social media.

Over the many years I have covered wildfires for this newspaper, I was able to develop a rapport with fire information officers I spoke with every year.

There’s a new fire information crew in Kamloops this year and big changes to the rapattack base. As of Jan 1, catering services were discontinued. Come Jan. 1, 2018, some 40 seasonal firefighters will have to find their own accommodations in Salmon Arm – a community with a rental vacancy of less than one per cent. All of this, according to a report, because some high-ranking individual decided rapattack firefighters see themselves as elite and should be mustered in with other personnel. No disrespect to the awesome men and women who fight wildfires, but rapattackers are need to be elite and highly trained for their role.

I wonder if the official in question would be willing to rappel from a helicopter flying up to 300 feet above the canopy into heavily forested, steep terrain to fight a lightning-caused fire.

Mayor Nancy Cooper has already sent an “urgent” email to Premier John Horgan, asking him to rethink the changes, accepting that “the rapattack model employed in Salmon Arm is one to be celebrated, and indeed, replicated throughout the province and not eliminated, based on what is, at best, a sketchy rationale.”

I agree.

If you do, write to the new premier; he has promised to listen.