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Squamish folks deploy to aid B.C. communities impacted by wildfire

Three firefighters are currently in the Cariboo region, working to protect structures that could be in the path of fires.
Squamish firefighters are currently helping communities impacted by wildfires in the Interior.
Squamish is a community that prides itself on being quick to lend a hand to those in need. 

That pride is well-earned in this case. 

As the province’s wildfire situation grows increasingly serious, Emergency Management BC has been requesting support from fire departments across the country. 

Squamish Fire Rescue members stepped up.

Three firefighters from Squamish, and two from Whistler, are currently in the Cariboo region helping to support communities affected by wildfires.

From Squamish are Steve Barone, a career captain with the department, and paid-on-call firefighters Ruby Morrissey and Laura Battista. 

This is the first time Squamish has deployed firefighters to hot spots, according to Squamish Fire Rescue Chief Bill Stoner.

"This year is not your normal year, as you can see when you turn on the news. There are a lot of wildfires in the province, and on top of that, we have done a lot of training in wildland firefighting. We have a very good group of people who have trained to go out and do structural protection," he said. 

"This seemed like a good year to do it." 

The firefighters are based out of 100 Mile House working on a structural protection branch for an up-to two-week deployment. 

This means they aren't in the woods beating back flames, but instead working to prevent damage that could be coming.  

"They are ahead of the fire, setting up sprinklers and FireSmarting people's houses, so if the fire does get there — and we all hope it doesn't, but if it does get there — [they have a] good chance of being protected.

"They have a great opportunity to gain some experience and what they get there, they can come back and teach here. So, by sending our members to 100 Mile House in this case, they are able to learn in the field and take that teaching back to us so we will be more prepared because of time spent up there, which is great." 

Stoner added that in addition, Megan Latimer, emergency program co-ordinator at the District of Squamish, is currently in Kamloops with the Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre supporting wildfire response there. 

It is hands-on experience that, hopefully, Squamish will never have to use, but it is helpful to have. 

Stoner noted that if ever the shoes were on the other foot and Squamish was facing wildfires, our community would be grateful for the help. 

"This is the ultimate knock-on-wood thing, but if we were ever to have an event like that, we would certainly be looking to other communities for assistance," he said. "We don't mind lending a hand so long as it doesn't diminish our ability to respond in-house. Paying it forward, I guess."

Stoner said as a fire chief at home watching the devastation as it happened in Lytton, it was hard to fathom what firefighters were feeling.

"You imagine being on the ground there and thinking about what an overwhelming situation that must have been in Lytton at that time. It was hard to comprehend being in their shoes at that time with the resources they had available to them." 

Be careful, Squamish

Stoner said the current dry conditions in the Sea to Sky are concerning, and it looks like there isn't much rain over the next couple of weeks, so while locals should not panic, they should be cautious to ensure we don't end up with a wildfire here. 

"There's no reason to be alarmist. but it is a hot dry summer and I would encourage everyone to be very safe this year. As far as campfires, don't have any campfires and be very careful in the backcountry." 

He said folks need to be mindful of what they do with their cigarettes and with anything else that could spark a fire. 

"Anything mechanical has an opportunity [to spark a fire] You have to be really careful."

Squamish Fire Rescue has eight career firefighters and more than 60 paid-on-call firefighters.

To report a wildfire or dangerous activity that could lead to a wildfire, call 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on a cell.