Cathy and Woody Winkelmann made up a poster to show Prince George how grateful they were during their evacuation to that city. For their story see Page 3.

VIDEO: B.C. fire crews return home after month-long wildfire battle

Surrey firefighters have been dousing fire threatened homes

A row of shiny fire trucks lines the fields in front of the Williams Lake curling rink. Oyster Bay, New Westminster, Salt Spring Island and, behind them all, a trailer with the Surrey Fire Service logo.

The Surrey crew has been here for almost a month, said assistant fire chief Chris Keon.

“We were sent to Williams Lake to assist the Williams Lake Fire Department in protecting the town against wildfire threats,” Keon said Wednesday afternoon. “Since then, the threat has subsided a bit.”

Williams Lake itself was under evacuation order for two weeks in July. The order was downgraded to an alert on July 27 but the air remains filled with smoke and the city smells like a particularly pungent campfire.

Surrey Fire Service assistant fire chief Chris Keon speaks with Williams Lake resident Woody Winkelmann about the firefighting efforts. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

On a good day, you can see the surrounding mountains. On a bad one, it’s just all one big hazy blur.

Williams Lake remains surrounded by aggressive wildfires; as of mid-week, the Wildwood fire sat at 12,684 hectares and the White Lake fire at 13,192 hectares. Smaller fires of several thousand hectares, like the Prouton Lake fire 40 kilometres northeast of the city, still threaten dozens of homes in the Cariboo.

READ: Evacuation order lifted for Williams Lake

Although the fires have subsided somewhat, officials warn that they could flare up again at any moment. Dozens of homes in and around town have loaded cargo trailers sitting in the yards, ready to evacuate again.

The Surrey fire crew, comprising Keon and Geoff McIntyre, is manning the mobile command unit: basically, a mini fire hall on wheels that they can hitch onto a semi.

The mobile command unit set up at the Williams Lake curling rink. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

“We can hook it up and move it at a moment’s notice, if it is threatened, and set it up elsewhere,” Keon said, noting it’s stocked with satellite phones and radio communications tools – key tools out in rural interior B.C., where leaving town can also mean leaving cell range.

“We’ve used it primarily for tracking our crews and for filling out time-sheets and different documentation.”

But they, and the rest of the fire departments – from Delta to Langley to Abbotsford – didn’t come up to Williams Lake to fill out paperwork.

RELATED: Delta sending staff and first responders to help fight B.C. wildfires

They run the structural protection units brought in from Ontario last month to help wet down the homes near the wildfires.

“The fire threat was coming from a place called Soda Creek Road,” said Keon. “So from the start we’ve been out there helping the sprinkler units deploy the (apparatus) and put them around different homes that are up that road.”

Firefighters set up sprinkler protection units in the Cariboo. (Angie Mindus photo)

The structural protection teams, Keon said, are run through the Office of the Fire Commissioner, who will deploy them across B.C. as needed. These, however, are from Ontario, sent to help with B.C.’s second worst wildfire season in recorded history.

RELATED: Wildfire evacuee was ‘treated like royalty’

They didn’t get to all the homes; in 150 Mile House, just outside of Williams Lake, police tape surrounds a burned-out car and what looks like lawn chair remnants sitting in a charred clearing.

A burnt out car and leftover furniture litter a fire-ravaged lot in 150 Mile House. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

But for now, it’s back home for at least the Surrey duo. Keon and McIntyre are leaving as of today (Thursday).

“The Wildwood fires fell short and didn’t threaten the city in the way they thought they might,” said Keon. “The rest of the [firefighting] task force is demobilizing in the next couple of days.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lake Kathlyn school sold to unknown buyer

The 11.64-acre property was listed in mid-January for an asking price of $1.1 million.

Bachrach rejects calls for police action against demonstrators

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP says only way out of crisis is “true nation-to-nation” talks

Coast Mountain College appoints a new president

The promotion came from within the school

Pipeline dispute: Tories put no-confidence motion on House of Commons agenda

Conservatives say they have no confidence in the Trudeau government to end the rail blockades

VIDEO: 7 things you need to know about the 2020 B.C. budget

Surplus of $227 million with big spending on infrastructure and capital projects

B.C., federal ministers plead for meeting Wet’suwet’en dissidents

Scott Fraser, Carolyn Bennett says they can be in Smithers Thursday

Province shows no interest in proposed highway between Alberta and B.C.

Province says it will instead focus on expanding the Kicking Horse Canyon to four lanes

First case of COVID-19 in B.C. has fully recovered, health officer says

Three other cases are symptom-free and expected to test negative soon

A&W employees in Ladysmith get all-inclusive vacation for 10 years of service

Kelly Frenchy, Katherine Aleck, and Muriel Jack are headed on all-expenses-paid vacations

Via Rail lays off 1,000 employees temporarily as anti-pipeline blockades drag on

The Crown corporation has suspended passenger trains on its Montreal-Toronto and Ottawa-Toronto

Budget 2020: Weaver ‘delighted,’ minority B.C. NDP stable

Project spending soars along with B.C.’s capital debt

B.C. widow ‘crushed’ over stolen T-shirts meant for memorial blanket

Lori Roberts lost her fiancé one month ago Tuesday now she’s lost almost all she had left of him

Higher costs should kill Trans Mountain pipeline, federal opposition says

Most recent total was $12.6 billion, much higher than a previous $7.4-billion estimate

Most Read