The Oliver Fire Department (OFD) mobilized and sent two trucks to help battle the Eagle Bluff wildfire that came dangerously close to Osoyoos this summer.
One truck was a water tender and the other was a fire engine resulting in a total of six firefighters from the department being sent out.
Rob Graham, spokesperson for the OFD, explained that the request for their assistance was paged out through a regional task force that was established earlier in the fire season, this task force included Willowbrook, OK Falls, Kaleden, and Naramata.
The creation of this task force was requested by BC Wildfire, Graham explained.
“During wildfire season BC Wildfire asked if we would create a task force, because they were so busy in other areas of town that they wouldn't be able to respond as quickly. They asked local fire departments to kind of be the initial response.
“So that's what our water tender was initially involved with and then got retasked to assist with the tactical evacuations and FireSmarting up in the neighborhood around the golf course in Osoyoos. And then the same thing with the engine just doing that type of tactical evacuation and helping with setting up any wet guards and assisting BC Wildfire.”
Graham, who was on the water tender himself explained that this fire was extraordinary, “the winds that were blowing that night were pushing that fire quite quickly. And just to see a dramatic shift in those winds from blowing from south to north and then within a couple of hours, all of a sudden changing and actually blowing back north to south, kind of pushing itself back on itself, that's quite incredible to see.”
The mobilization in response to the wildfire happened fast, he says. “It's an incredible task. Within hours of that fire kicking off and then moving across the border into Osoyoos’ territory, to see fire departments that come up and down the valley and basically, dozens of trucks in every neighborhood along that hillside ready to protect people's property.
“We go out and respond to people's emergencies that we don't even know these people, and we're willing to go out there and risk, you know, life and limb to protect basically our backyard as well.”
Graham further explained that it is a unique task to offer assistance and send crews and equipment to help out with the raging wildfires, but also be conscious of the duty to protect Oliver.
“It's a matter of getting some manpower and making sure that we have manpower to be able to go and assist and making sure that we don't leave our town unprotected. Thankfully, we have lots of members in the department that are willing to put in that time and even to give up, going out and staying in town to make sure that if anything kicks off in our area that we can still respond.”
Fighting wildfires comes with challenges, not only fighting the actual fire itself, but it comes with mental challenges and stressors as well.
“The biggest challenge, I think, for a lot of firefighters is when you go to evacuate people and maybe they don't understand or they don't want to leave their belongings behind. And you get some people that are just like, ‘I'm not going I don't want to go’.
“That becomes the biggest stressor for everybody because now not only do you have to worry about this fire, but you also have to worry about these people that have decided to stay behind and you've got to worry about their life as well, rather than them leaving.”
“The fact that so many departments were able to come together so quickly up and down the valley, in West Kelowna and Kelowna. Seeing so many departments that deployed so quickly to try and prevent as much loss as they could.
“It becomes very disheartening to a lot of firefighters and emergency responders when you're trying to do the best you can and you've lost a building and then you've lost another building and you're trying to do the best you can.”
Further noting that this can weigh heavily on the minds of first responders and even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The Oliver Fire Department and the Osoyoos Fire department have had a great relationship working together in the past and the Eagle Bluff wildfire was no different, Graham commented.
“We have called on them many times to come down and assist with mutual aid calls for structure fires to the high school fire to our various wildfires that we've had. We have that mutual aid agreement and that partnership where we can call on each other and we'll be willing to go and help and they'll be able to come help us so we try to keep that relationship strong.”