(L-R) Brett Leversage, Will Roberts and Jesse Bazergui on their last day of work with the Burns Lake branch of the BC Wildfire Service crew on Sept. 27. (Blair McBride photo)

Burns Lake wildfire crews sign off for season

The BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) crews in Burns Lake wrapped up their last shift of the season on Sept. 27.

Three staff finished on that day, down from the peak of 35 firefighters in July and August at the Burns Lake branch of BCWS, and 10 in Houston.

The relatively cool and wet summer meant that the crews were less active in this region compared to previous years.

“It has been a nice, quiet fire season. A very low number of fires,” as Cliff Manning, Zone Wildfire Officer with BCWS told Lakes District News.

READ MORE: Wet summer dampens wildfire risks

Though the Burns Lake region was spared a hectic fire season, local crews still kept busy.

In contrast to 2018, when wildfire crews from outside of the region and even outside of the country came to help out Burns Lake, this year local crews were sent elsewhere to battle blazes.

“We deployed our crews to the Cassiar, to northern Alberta in the spring and some went to the Yukon. The Cassiar had the most fires,” Manning said.

LOOK BACK: Firefighters battling 4 new wildfires in northwest B.C.

Around 80 per cent of the local BCWS staff had already left by the end of September, Manning added.

“They start leaving at the end of August because they had to go to university and college. Then we lose some more in the middle of September. The supervisors leave in October and then they go off to do different things. A crew leader over in Houston runs a volunteer ski patrol in Nelson, for example. Some go off into other careers,” Manning said.

Jesse Bazergui, who worked in Burns Lake will be returning to Nanaimo to do slashing work with a forestry consulting company.

Brett Leversage plans to visit Ontario for a few months and will return to Burns Lake in March to start a new contract with BCWS as a unit crew supervisor.

For the rest of the fall, BCWS supervisors will do their final shifts later in October and there will probably be about five people left in the Burns Lake branch to do office work.

“In the meantime we’re doing training related to falling trees. We’re cleaning up some of the project work, some of the burning from FireSmarting and fuel management.”

In what was possibly the crew’s last fire suppression job of the season, and maybe even of the year, Burns Lake personnel were sent out on Sept. 20 to put out a fire near Big Loon Lake, off the east side of Babine Lake.

“It may have been burning for a couple of weeks,” Manning said. “It was reported by a helicopter that noticed the smoke. It was 30 metres by metres, in the Loon Lake area. Took a day to put out. Even though it has been really wet, it was probably caused by a hangover lightning strike, and the fire kept finding fuel. The crews said all the creeks were dry, even with all the rain we’ve been getting.”

While branch work is closing down, training for initial attack crews is just beginning this month and will continue into November, then resume in January and run until March.

For aspiring attack crew members at Lakes District Secondary School, training will take place once a month, on non-instructional days.

“We have 14 students in Burns Lake and three in Houston,” Manning said.

Of the 1,500-2,000 applicants to BCWS each year, 700 people make the cut for an interview and 250 are invited to boot camps in Merritt in May.

Applications for next year’s intake open on the BCWS employment website on Nov. 15 and close on Jan. 15.

Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
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