Deputy fire chief Brent Penner speaks with firefighters Friday before their flight to protect structures in the Telegraph Creek area. - Carli Berry/Capital News

Lake Country firefighters protect structures as largest wildfire in B.C. burns

Firefighters from the district are assisting with structure protection

Lake Country firefighters are glad to be home after a week of protecting public and private property against the largest wildfire in the province.

Four Lake Country firefighters returned home after working to save homes, radio towers and bridges in the Telegraph Creek area.

The wildfire burning in Northern B.C. is the largest in the province, burning at 118,318 hectares as of Saturday morning.

READ MORE: Four fires merge near Telegraph Creek

The group of five: Tom Clements, Paul Hipsey, Chris Casparis, Gary Rawsthorne, as well as Geoff Evans, who remains at the site, were averaging 13.5 hour workdays as they set up hoses and sprinklers to protect infrastructure.

At the end of the day, there’s a little sense of satisfaction, Rawsthorne said.

“Those bridges are so important, if they’re not there, there’s no way out. The river runs to Alaska,” he said, referring to Tuya Bridge and another main bridge that cross the Stikine River.

After setting up camp in Dease Lake, located roughly 100 kilometres away, the crew would start their day by driving a few hours to the location.

“The winds changed around a lot. But there were times where the wind would change and blow from the west, and so west of the fire it was incredible scenery; canyons and the mountains, it was amazing, but then when the wind would shift you couldn’t see the hills beside us,” Hipsey said.

Sometimes the fire was so close, they had to stomp it out, Rawsthorne said while stamping his feet.

“It was on the side of the road sometimes,” said Clements.

“It was actually frustrating because when you fight fires (in Lake Country) you put them out, but there we were tasked to do the spot fires and ignore the road fires so it was frustrating to drive by, well, you see a fire you want to put it out,” Hipsey said.

Despite the fire being so close, safety was a top priority for the crews.

“There were a few times, where we weren’t scared, but there was a bit of concern, where we need to be watching (and be ready to go,)” Hipsey said. “There were a few crews that got cut off by the fire and they had to be flown out, and they had to leave all their gear and their trucks. So you always have in the back of your mind, if something goes wrong they’ll fly us out.”

There’s more to protecting the structures than hosing them with water, Hipsey said.

“It’s not just putting the sprinklers on, it’s putting poly on so the water doesn’t damage the house,” he said.

Hipsey said they came across a fishing camp of 15 structures, so they had to rig up a system of hoses to protect it.

“Nothing that we protected burned down,” he said, although the firefighters saw structures that were already burned as they made their rounds in the area.

READ MORE: Central Okanagan firefighters are battling wildfires across B.C.

Rawsthorne saw it as just another task to complete.

Hipsey said he got into the trade for the community spirit.

“It needs to be done, somebody has to do it,” Hipsey said.

After returning home, four firefighters: Patrick Schryburt, Cody McKelvey, Thomas Mathesius, and Shaun Reed flew out Friday to the Telegraph Creek area to protect structures. Two Lake Country firefighters are also assisting wildfire crews in the Burns Lake area.

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Lake Country firefighters from left to right: Patrick Schryburt, Cody McKelvey, Thomas Mathesius, Shaun Reed left for Telegraph Creek Friday at the Kelowna International Airport. - Carli Berry/Capital News

Firefighter Paul Hipsey returns home after protecting structures in the Telegraph Creek area last week. - Carli Berry/Capital News

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