Shuswap locals receive basic wildfire training

B.C. Premier David Eby toured some Interior communities that have been impacted by wildfires, facing questions from locals about firefighting efforts on the ground.

Some Shuswap locals are receiving Basic Fire Suppression and Safety training to assist, when possible, crews as they continue to battle the raging Bush Creek East fire.

The BC Wildfire Service says the training is being organized by community leaders to enable residents “to safely work directly on the fire line.”

“We are in the process of hiring some trained and interested local individuals to work under the direction or our operations section,” the BC Wildfire Service said in an email to CityNews.

The S-100 training is not being provided by the BC Wildfire Service itself, as was previously reported. However, it says it “appreciates the help being provided by these trained and organized local residents and recognizes their commitment to their community.”

The training comes after backlash and tensions erupted around evacuation orders in the Shuswap, where some locals wanted to stay and defend their properties from flames.

A Scotch Creek food truck owner posted a video to Instagram Sunday, speaking with fire information officer Mike McCulley, who explains the training integrates locals who are willing and able to assist.

“We need your help, that’s as simple as it is. We’re trying to put the past behind and throw down the gauntlet a little bit and build some trust between us and we need you to come work for us, honestly,” McCulley said in the video.

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“If you’ve taken the S-100 course yesterday or today, please come tomorrow to the marina to sign up. I’ll talk to you, I’ll tell you how it might look, you can come out and work for us on the line.”

S-100 training is recognized by the BC Wildfire Service “only when delivered in the approved format by a BC Wildfire Service-endorsed instructor,” the service explains online.

It is typically delivered over two full days.

“For logistical and operational reasons, the BC Wildfire Service does not hire individual emergency firefighters. Instead, anyone possessing a valid S-100 Basic Fire Suppression and Safety certification is encouraged to contact local fire suppression contract crew companies for possible employment opportunities,” the service adds.

McCulley says locals can try it out for day, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay.

“We need to try to get out ahead of these big fronts of fire. We’ve got a lot of summer left to go, we’re not running around chasing small spot fires — we’re trying to tackle the big beast, the big flank, that’s what we’re doing. We’d love to integrate you into our operations,” he added.

McCulley admits “it ain’t going to be smooth,” adding this is a first for the BC Wildfire Service and that there are “a lot of bumps to work through.”

“But I am asking you to give it a try … Hopefully you are willing.”

Last week, Jay Simpson, who represents the region at the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, confirmed to CityNews that the service was going to be training a number of Shuswap residents. At the time, Simpson also stressed that a “convoy” that was reportedly targeting a local police road block didn’t represent the people in his community, adding “we didn’t have any involvement with that group and we need BC Wildfire here.”

UBC Forestry researcher Sarah Dickson-Hoyle says every year there are British Columbians who defy wildfire evacuation orders, with some feeling provincial resources are stretched thin or their community isn’t being prioritized.

“There’s also concerns that if they evacuate, they won’t be able to get back in, regardless of permit systems. They won’t be able to support livestock, maybe they have pets that they can’t evacuate,” she explained.

Dickson-Hoyle says the provincial government needs to understand those motivation and support communities and individuals who do decide to stay with their properties, and prepare them to properly defend their homes and protect themselves.

She explains it is happening to some extent, but admits the approach is varied and uptake has been slow.

As of Monday morning, there were just more than 370 wildfires burning in B.C. The Bush Creek East fire was an estimated 43,067 hectares as of Sunday evening, and still considered out of control.

-With files from Charlie Carey

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the BC Wildfire Service did not organize and provide the training to locals, and that community leaders led this initiative. 

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