Aaron Williams shown in this undated photo at a wildfire. Graeme Tabor photo

Former Telkwa Ranger writes on life fighting wildfires

Aaron Williams’s book launch for Chasing Smoke is Oct. 12, 7 p.m. at the Smithers Public Library.

Are you fascinated by what it’s like to fight a wildfire? If so, there’s a book about to hit shelves near you.

The memoir Chasing Smoke is written by Aaron Williams, who once lived in Smithers and was on the Telkwa Rangers. It will take readers on a first-hand tour on what it’s like to battle wildfires.

It delves into how a fire season unfolds through the eyes of experienced firefighter Williams. He shares the physical and high-adrenalin lifestyle shared by his crew. Fighting fires for 10 years, Williams shares what it’s like to work 16-hour days in an apocalyptic landscape, where the smoke is so thick your snot runs black and you need to drink 10 litres of water a day.

In his memoir, he writes about what it’s like to make a stupid mistake and singe your beard in front of the crew, or spend hours hosing a spot the size of a queen mattress and still not extinguish the burn — what it’s like to hear a tree fall, a co-worker’s shout, and imagine the worst.

At first I’m calm as the trees fall. But suddenly a rat’s nest of wood, bent horizontal and cribbed into the trees above us, comes down in a rush of a hundred machine gun snaps. Trees caught in the nest flail around before hitting the ground. Our eyes dart everywhere, trying to keep track of every moment. Trees break free and swing themselves like catapults. Splintered chunks of wood slash through the air like propellers … Falling trees is the most dangerous job in North America,” Aaron Williams said in the memoir’s description.

Williams, who attended journalism school in 2012-13, discussed with The Interior News the inspiration behind writing this memoir.

“I tried to freelance for a bit and then I went back [to] firefighting because work was pretty thin. And then the next year I worked a bit more; I worked for a TV production company … It was pretty brutal, I just felt absolutely exploited … It was like well, I could stay and keep doing this or I can go back firefighting for one more year and that’s it. And I decided if I went back firefighting for one more year, I would write something every day of the season and that became the foundation for the book.”

According to Williams, what separates this memoir from others is it takes the human aspect rather than the excitement aspect, citing other memoirs overlook that angle.

“I think that a lot of people, when they want to write about these kinds of jobs it’s just about life. Oh, it’s dangerous and hot and scary and dirty and exhausting, but I don’t think the human relationship side is explored as much and that’s much more interesting to me … I think that is the thing that sets it apart,” he said.

The book doesn’t discuss this past summer’s wildfires in B.C. due to it already being written.

“[The book] is all about the 2014 season. This is just kind of a weird bit of timing where there’s this crazy fire year. The publisher has talked about maybe doing like an afterward about this past season. I was out for about I guess five or six weeks working [the wildfires] this summer,” Williams stated. “It’s kind of weird, I say all this stuff about how the 2014 season was quite busy, especially in the Northwest, and now it totally fails in comparison to this year.”

Aaron Williams will be having a book launch for Chasing Smoke in Smithers on Oct. 12 from 7-8 p.m. at the Smithers Public Library.

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