Pitt Meadows fire crews in for the long haul

Fire Chief Don Jolley also in fight against Interior wildfires

Pitt Meadows Fire and Rescue is in it for the long term, trying to protect lives and property from one of the firestorms that ravaging B.C.

A four-man crew, including assistant fire chief Brad Perrie is currently in 150 Mile House after going up there last week. By Friday, they’ll be rotated out of the area and replaced by another four-man squad led by Asst. Chief Mike Larsson.

“They’re working 15 to 16-hour days right now,” said Larsson. Temperatures are in the 30 C to 35 C range. Larsson said Sunday was an easier day for firefighters with calmer winds and lower humidity. But all it takes is for the winds to pick up and a firestorm erupts. If that happens firefighter just drop their lines and go, he added.

Larsson said the focus now is on a long-term battle with the wild blazes.

The crew is composed of three paid-on call firefighters along with a full-timer and and the extra fire truck. “We’re just at the call of (ministry of) forestry. They know what they’re doing,” Larsson said.

Pitt Meadows Fire Chief Don Jolley is also helping out in the pre-operations centre in Kamloops. Larsson said it’s easier to schedule paid-on-call firefighters than fulltime firefighters. Pitt Meadows has seven full-timers and 36 paid-on-call firefighters. That’s about 10 more than the department had last year.

“We have adequate resources in Pitt Meadows. We’ll never deplete that,” Larsson said.

Maple Ridge Fire Chief Howard Exner said his department is under different circumstances than it was in 2003 when they sent firefighters to fight the devastating wildfires in 2003 Kelowna or in 1998 in Salmon Arm in fires in later years in Barriere or Cranbrook.

“I don’t have spare fire trucks. All the stuff that we’ve purchased have been for the taxpayers of Maple Ridge. And we use it constantly.”

Back then, the department was answering 1,000 calls a year. Now, it’s five times that. “We don’t have a lot of extra staff,” Exner said.

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue is not on the B.C. Fire Commissioner’s list as able to respond to out-of-town calls.

“We’re certainly not on that list. First of all, there hasn’t been a big draw for it,” in recent years, because of low fire activity.

“We haven’t really geared up for it. It will take us a bit to get going, if we were to go. We have to be cautious with what we send away and what it does to the city.”

But Maple Ridge could get the call any time. He added that it takes a lot to organize personnel to free them up in order to cover a fire out of town.

A fire ban currently is in place throughout all of Maple Ridge.

• The City of Maple Ridge has posted the address of an evacuation centre that’s been set up in the Lower Mainland.

It’s the South West Emergency Regional Reception Centre and Group Lodging facility: at the Cloverdale Arena, 6090 176th St. in Surrey. http://www.surrey.ca/culture-recreation/5031.aspxCall, 604-598-7960.