In the wake of the devastating Adams Complex fires, residents of the Shuswap area have stepped forward to join BC Wildfire Service on the front lines. This recent development follows a period of tension as locals, feeling abandoned, came under fire from officials who accused them of pilfering firefighting equipment.
This dynamic shift was instigated by an Instagram video posted on Sunday by a food truck operator from Scotch Creek. The video featured fire information officer Mike McCulley, calling upon Shuswap locals to unite with the BC Wildfire Service. In his message, McCulley stated, “We need your expertise, your local knowledge. We’re striving to move beyond the past, to rebuild trust, and we invite you to work with us.”
Following this call to action, community members participated in a certified training program enabling them to aid the BC Wildfire Service. McCulley confirmed during an update at the Columbia Shuswap Regional District that at least 17 locals joined forces with the crews on Monday, and more were anticipated for Tuesday. They reinforced the team of over 250 wildland firefighters operating in the area, including a team from South Africa, 97 structure protection personnel, and 17 helicopters.
McCulley praised the initiative of the local community and the local government. He said, “The locals’ willingness to complete the training and come together in support of our efforts is something we are grateful for.” He emphasized that their invaluable knowledge of the landscape is as crucial to the mission as their physical labor.
The instructional program, known as S-100, is a two-day course taught by BC Wildfire Service-endorsed tutors, covering fundamentals of fire suppression and safety.
The impact of such an initiative has already been made evident in Kamloops. Local resident and property owner Bill Epp testified to the vital role community members played in saving his home from the recent Rossmoore Lake wildfire, which had ravaged approximately 75% of his 160-acre property. Epp recalls, “During the first three days of the fire, we had no help except locals. The community’s contribution was tremendous.”
In light of the escalating effects of climate change, Epp mentioned that community members were keen on gaining the training to protect their homes against future wildfires. Based on this success, the BC Wildfire Service is looking into the possibility of expanding such collaborations. Director of Operations, Cliff Chapman, praised the collective efforts being demonstrated in Shuswap and expressed interest in further exploring such initiatives leading up to the 2024 fire season. He stressed that those joining the ranks of the BC Wildfire Service aren’t volunteers but are being paid for their invaluable services.