Hodge: Doing our part to control destructive wrath of forest fires

It takes a tremendous sense of focus, determination, toughness and competition to be a forest fire rap attacker.

It’s always interesting what sparks a thought and candles memories of the past.

Like many folks, I have a healthy respect and logical fear of fire fanned and fed I surmise from two specific incidents in my younger years.

My fear of house fires is magnified from when I decided to become a door-to-door salesman of smoke and fire alarm detectors. (I was desperately trying to find another career aside from journalism and door-to-door sales on a bad day mirrored the pay of a small town journalist).

Part of the job was a three week training course complete with videos and intense book study on anything to do with fire.

To this day, I see every electronic device in my home as a potential arsonist waiting for me to sleep or leave the house.

The course cost me more than $400 (a fortune back then). I sold one detector before quitting.

Making single moms cry in guilt for not having enough money to protect their children was way more than I could deal with.

My instinctive terror of flames outdoors was amplified when as a young journalist I spent a weekend hanging out with a Rap-Attack forest firefighting team.

Every time I travel past a burning hillside or watch a fire report on television, I flash back to that weekend.

That is what happened yesterday as I drove back from city council related meetings in Kamloops.

The entire trip was dotted with spot fires throughout the terrain, grey skies filled with forest smoke, and a heavy acrid smell permeating the air.

Ironically, what was not ablaze or grey was spectacularly green and healthy. So it felt like spot samples of hell peppered into a landscape of Heaven.

While traversing past the burning hills around Falkland, I was instantly mentally teleported to my adventure filled weekend some 35 years ago.

Memories of terror and facing the ominous overwhelming power of an angry Mother Nature returned.

Rap Attack teams are  our firefighting equivalent to a police SWAT team. Highly skilled, fit, strategically trained firefighters are sent in to the core or hot spots of fires and remote areas that cannot be reached by any other means than helicopter.

‘Rappers’ learn how to quickly clamber down tremendously long ropes onto small hillside or mountain top areas while choppers hover carefully over head.

There is a strange disconnect in the brain that happens when one finds themselves supposed to be in a hurry to drop out of a safe helicopter onto a suspended rope and then dangle high above a blazing inferno.

The body says no, the brain says no, and the team leader behind you says now!

I remember on the way out the chopper promising myself to reconsider a career in door-to-door sales should I survive.

It takes a tremendous sense of focus, determination, toughness and competition to be a forest fire rap attacker.

Beating Mother Nature is not a fight for the faint hearted.

Sadly, once again, our valley and province is facing another major forest fire filled summer  with hundreds of fires already burning.

Even more alarming  for those who were here during the inferno of 2003, this year’s fires have hit earlier and harder than a dozen years ago.

Fire experts say our surrounding forests are even drier this year and there is not a lot of cool, wet weather in the forecast.

We are in for some harsh times folks, and it may sadly get much worse before it gets better.

The reality is that some 40 per cent of the current fires burning were caused by human involvement.

As mere mortals, we have no control over such scenarios such as lightning and other natural starts to fires.

However it only takes common sense, basic safety rules, and respect for both nature and others to prevent forest fires.

As our old childhood buddy Smokey the Bear use to caution—“Only you can prevent forest fires.”

So here is the plan for what you can do to help mitigate the current crisis. Be cautious and be involved.

If you see a puff of smoke in the hills do not hesitate to report it. Pick up cell phone and dial *5555 on your regular phone call 1-800-663-5555.

If you or someone you know are planning a camping trip or even a day in the great outdoors remember—no campfires, smoking, toking or large barbecues.

At last report, the only permitted flame-like objects allowed outdoors currently are Campfire in a Can.

Other common sense tips suggest you pack out whatever you pack in to a campsite, clear any potential fire tinder debris around your property (if you live in an area bordering a forest), and refrain from operating any motorcycle, all terrain vehicles or equipment such as chainsaws which may cause sparks.

At last report the blaze on Westside Road and Shelter Cove has reached 460 hectares and still a concern, so we are already taxing heavily our fire fighting teams.

I can’t urge readers enough to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Please do not contribute further to the threat.

Do yourself and the rest of the province a favour.

Post the two numbers above into your cell phone or on your fridge for quick reference.

With fir es—literally every minute counts.

And our forests are counting on us to make a difference.


Kelowna Capital News