Hundreds of firefighters from across British Columbia have been working tirelessly south of the border over the past two weeks.
On the morning of Sept. 18, 207 BC Wildfire Service firefighters drove across the border in a large convoy, making it to Redmond, Ore. that evening. Since then, the B.C. crews have been helping fight the 78,000-hectare Beachie Creek wildfire and the 70,000-hectare Holiday Farm wildfire.
The following week, another 143 B.C. firefighters travelled to California to assist American crews on the North Complex Fire, just east of Chico, Calif. That fire is currently pegged at just over 127,000 hectares.
“Most of the fire activity that they're seeing [in Oregon], from the reports that I'm reading at least, isn't as hectic as it has been, just due to some of the weather that they have there that's working in their favour,” said Forrest Tower, fire information officer with the BC Wildfire Service. “The weather is not as extreme as it was before.”
But these Oregon fires have been very destructive since they were sparked in August. The Beachie Creek fire, east of Salem, Ore., has destroyed 486 homes and 837 other structures, while the Holiday Farm fire, east of Eugene, Ore., has burned 432 home and 337 other structures. Beachie Creek is now 58 per cent contained while Holiday Farm has 65 per cent containment.
Tower says B.C. crews are doing similar day-to-day tasks as they do at home, like constructing hand guards, ensuring the fire is extinguished near its perimeter and responding to hot spots.
Throughout the deployment, Canadian crews, which include help from Ontario and Alberta, are keeping separate from their American counterparts, in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. This includes maintaining that separation in the firefighters' camp.
“We're in our own separate area, and we have our own shower access and our meals are separate and everything,” Tower said.
Upon their return home, they will be self isolating for the required 14 days.
The B.C. crews can remain in the U.S. for a total of 19 days, which means those working in Oregon will be coming home next week, while those in California will be working until the following week. Tower says they haven't received any more requests from American authorities for additional deployments, but added it's possible an additional request could come for the California fires.
To date, a record-breaking 1.52 million hectares of California has burned, destroying close to 8,000 buildings and killing 26 people.