POLITICS

Ontario fire ranger crew help fight blaze on Boulder Creek in B.C.

07/11/2015 01:25 EDT | Updated 07/11/2016 05:59 EDT
Burning trees, thick smoke and extreme heat are all part of the job for a group of Ontario firefighters battling a massive blaze in a devastated swath of forest in central British Columbia.

"A lot of action; it's very dry," fire ranger Vincent Carriere, speaking from a fire base in Pemberton, B.C., said in an interview.

"There are trees that are just dead, standing with their needles ready to light up. On the ground there is also fuel left to be burned so it's still just creeping along; a lot of activity."

The 22-year-old from Chapleau, Ont., is one of a crew of 21 fire rangers from Ontario who began work Thursday helping fight the Boulder Creek wild fire north of Whistler.

The blaze covers 50 square kilometres in a mountainous and remote area. The crew is part of a larger deployment of 70 fire management personnel sent by Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources to help douse forest fires across the province.

Carriere says he and his team are helping prevent the fire from spreading to a hydro electric camp that was evacuated on July 4.

The team is driven into the area early in the day and they work sections of the fire at a time, sweeping through and putting out hot spots before going back over the same area to make sure they were successful, he explains.

"It's exciting, you can really feel the intensity and it brings wind shifts so you can feel that. Sometimes it feels surreal," Carriere said. "There's always that sense of danger."

The danger is real.

"When it's roaring flames, they don't put anyone near it because it's just so unpredictable, it's just too unsafe to put personnel on the ground," he said.

"It always keeps you aware, you stay humble, you know that at any time it could possibly do what it wants. You kind of respect the fire in that way."

The Boulder Creek fire is one of three major blazes in the area, including the province's largest, the Elaho valley fire, where 150 square kilometres of forest are burning, according to fire information officer Melissa Klassen.

There are 93 people, five pieces of heavy equipment and six helicopters trying to contain the Boulder Creek blaze, including the team from Ontario, she says.

"Very aggressive fire behaviour" has been seen at the fire sites, Klassen said from Pemberton.

"The kind of fire activity that we are seeing at this time of the fire season is substantial," she said, adding it's spurred B.C. to turn to help from outside the province earlier than usual this fire season.

Robert Woodrich, a information officer at Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources, agrees the situation is extreme.

"The activity is pretty intense; I've never seen anything like this," Woodrich said from the base in Pemberton. "Where we're at in the coastal zone, we've got fires burning in old-growth trees and that sort of thing that even the folks out here haven't seen before."

Fire activity in the area was most extreme last weekend, slowing down over the week, but activity is beginning to increase again, Klassen said.

Carrier remains upbeat as he continues working the frontlines of the Boulder Creek blaze.

"There's still a lot of work to do but every little bit that everyone does is to help the whole picture," he said.