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Record-breaking wildfire season affecting firefighters’ mental health

There are 380 active wildfires in B.C., and more across the country. Three firefighters have died. A BC Wildfire Service officer tells Sarah Chew the teams are tired, and this record-breaking wildfire season is affecting their mental health.

A safety and wellbeing officer with the BC Wildfire Service says stress is getting to the province’s firefighters and affecting their mental health.

Not only are they fighting 380 active wildfires in BC right now, but they’re also mourning the loss of three colleagues who have recently died — one of them from Revelstoke.

“It certainly heightened everyone’s awareness of the very real risks that people take while doing this kind of work, so yes people are holding on okay but certainly fatigue is becoming a factor and certainly, there’s a lot of people who are upset,” said Steve Lemon.

“Just being away from children and spouses and family for long periods of time is in itself difficult, and then coupled with smokey environments, very stressful work, very high-risk work, very long hours.”

Cliff Chapman, the service’s director of wildfire operations, says there are over 2500 personnel on the ground in B.C., and more than a hundred Brazilian firefighters will be flying in on Friday. He says we will have enough people to fight what’s already been a long and hard fire season.

The Donnie Creek Fire.

Flames from the Donnie Creek wildfire burn along a ridge top north of Fort St. John, British Columbia, Canada, Sunday, July 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

“The next few days are going to be challenging,” Chapman said.

“We are seeing rain enter the north into some of the areas where we’ve seen significant fires in the last few months… Cariboo, Kamloops Fire Centre, and Southeast Fire Centre will continue on a warming and drying trend, and as we saw this week with the St. Mary’s River, conditions are there for larger fires in the south.”

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Meanwhile, the federal government says it’s working to limit the loss of life and infrastructure across the country as much as possible.

“It goes to show how we need as a country to be better prepared to face the impacts of climate change,” said Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

For now, Lemon says B.C. residents can also support firefighters by acknowledging their sacrifices and being more kind on social media.

“When we’re being told we’re not doing enough to protect homes and communities or to protect the logging industry in British Columbia, that takes a personal toll on a lot of us.”

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