BC calls for help from Island to fight forest fires

Nigel Armstrong NArmstrong@TheGuardian.pe.ca
Published on July 22, 2014

A RCMP officer puts up police tape as flames from a forest fire are seen burning on a hillside in West Kelowna, B.C., early Friday, July, 18, 2014. Over 2500 residents of the area were evacuated when the fire suddenly grew in size threatening nearby homes.

©THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Two Island forestry staff are in British Columbia helping with the forest fire situation in that province.

The request for firefighters came to P.E.I. as part of a national forest fire mutual aid agreement.

Ken Mayhew, information officer with the forests, fish and wildlife division of the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said that for confidentiality reasons he will not release the names of the two Islanders that left Saturday to help.

As of the weekend, there were over 140 fires burning in B.C., some of them threatening residences, encompassing massive areas and causing evacuation orders and alerts.

Mayhew said he has not yet heard where the two P.E.I. forestry staff are deployed in B.C.

“They will be out there, we anticipate, for at least the next two to three and maybe as much as four weeks.”

Mayhew thinks the last time P.E.I. sent forestry staff to B.C. was in 2003 on the outskirts of Kelowna when a firestorm consumed Okanagan Mountain Park.

“The 2003 fire season was one of the most catastrophic in British Columbia’s recorded history,” says a page on the B.C. government website.

Mayhew said that P.E.I. does not have full-time forest fire fighters but many staff get that training as part of their overall duties.

The travel to help in other provinces gives the Island crews valuable experience, said Mayhew.

“We give them people that they can use in certain ways but when they come back here, they are bringing back knowledge and experience that they have gained out there, so it’s very beneficial to us as well,” he said.

The national agreement goes both ways.

“We can send fire fighters but we have used helicopters from Nova Scotia when we had situations that required air support, because that is something that we don’t have on P.E.I. so it works both in the equipment and the manpower side of things,” said Mayhew.

The two Islanders now in B.C. did not take any equipment with them, he said.

“In P.E.I. we just don’t’ have that kind of area of forest to get going, but one of the things that is making it a bit more serious in some areas of British Columbia is that they are losing massive areas of trees to climate change,” said Mayhew.

“We also have that impact on us,” he said.

“We have white spruce that seems to be getting nailed by spruce bark beetle.

“When it becomes a big, dead, standing tree, that becomes a fire hazard.

“It seems more of the insects are living through the winters because we don’t’ get the cold winters we used to get.

“That is the same issue they are having in parts of B.C.and Alberta now.

“The knowledge that they bring in how fire behaves under these types of conditions is going to be very beneficial to us,” said Mahew. “This will give us an increased knowledge base to work with in the future if this becomes more of an issue here.”