Firefighting has changed over the years with the advent of technology such as satellite imagery and more modern aircraft. (File photo)

Column: Remembering camaraderie of wildfire fighting

Shuswap Outdoors/Hank Shelley

Way back when loggers and conscripts fought wildfires, there was a pure sense of urgency to tackle and get them out as quickly as possible.

Wildfires were a lot smaller, there was good organization, usually from the Forest Service head ranger in a district, and the patrolmen and dispatcher.

Going back 50 hot, dry seasons, look-outs on Queest, Mara and Eagle Pass played an important role reporting fire.

Big Ralph Lund was at Mara, while a gal from Magna Bay manned Queest.

Dog tired from grubbing fire guard, a cook dishing out grub, a time keeper counting the work hours for each man, there was always time for a bit of fun.

As a patrolman under ranger Brian Collins, assistant Brian Lodge assistant and dispatcher Norm Dale, I had a fire at Hidden Lake with a crew of nine men.

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Harold Oakland from Armstrong was time keeper and was freaked out by bears. It so happened a massive black bear ran across his chest as we slept in a small open lean-to. We couldn’t find Harold for two days.

Two of the crew took delight in throwing cans of beans in our small guarded crew fire at night to the delight of all!

The 800-acre Cooke Creek fire had 14 men with two Oxford English chaps, one being the cook. A young bear got into the meat and vegetable stash over a creek.

Cookie chased the bear and the bear chased Cookie. I had to call warden Alan Frisby to put the bear down as it was too friendly.

As time progressed, a person took a course on fire fighting and then held a certificate in order to be on the line.

Snag fallers had to be certified as well. One chap who fell for years had to follow the young guy around.

One fire above Malakwa had charred trees to fall. Just then a chopper came in with his bucket and dumped a load, including a sockeye salmon that was scooped from the Eagle River, right beside the two.

The Joss Mountain fire saw 11 of us under huge cedar trees grubbing guard.

Soon an Avenger water bomber radioed he was going to dump.

We all ran for cover as the water sifted through the trees in a mist. That was the start of the first water bombers other than the Marten Mars.

The pilot, a Korean vet, came into land on the Mabel Lake air strip.

We had hired an older chap to remove rocks, and it so happened the pilot buzzed the hard-of-hearing guy. We didn’t find him for two days either.

Much has changed, as we see each evening on the news with safety meetings.

Lightning strike satellite imagery, helicopters and faster aircraft dropping water.

For us old guys who were there in the early days with pulaskis, shovels and paper sleeping bags, bustin’ our butts, it’s a bygone era with wonderful memories and many more stories!


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