Not if, but when: Crews battle simulated North Shore wildfire

Click to play video: 'Wildfire simulation on North Shore allows crews to prepare'
Wildfire simulation on North Shore allows crews to prepare
Firefighters on the North Shore gathered for a special training exercise to practice for the upcoming wildfire season. As Cassidy Mosconi reports the simulation is helping all agencies prepare – Apr 11, 2024

It’s 9 p.m. on the first day of August, and as the sun sets, a recreational boater in Indian Arm spots a glow coming from the shore.

The longer they look, the more convinced they are they’re seeing a wildfire.

The boater is right. Earlier that morning, a group of kayakers who had been camping at Camp Jubilee packed up and left the site with embers still burning in their campfire pit. As winds picked up, they fanned the embers, producing flames that spread first into the brush before threatening structures and infrastructure.

Click to play video: 'Whistler prepares for wildfire season'
Whistler prepares for wildfire season

None of this is real.

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It’s Operation Jubilee — a simulation of a fire scenario that District of North Vancouver firefighters and partner agencies ran in real time on Thursday at a remote location north of the community.

“This is really about getting all the responding agencies together, putting a face to a name, understanding how we operate, how we can work together, what we can do to improve on that,” District of North Vancouver Fire Chief Mike Danks told Global News.

“Most importantly it’s about how do we communicate with each other, because everyone is operating on different frequencies, and this is the time to iron that out before the actual event happens.”

The purpose of Thursday’s exercise was to drill first responders on efficiently tackling the growing threat posed by wildland-urban interface fires — that is, fires on the boundary of forests and communities.

Firefighters worked hand-in-hand with nearly two dozen other agencies from around the province, including dispatchers, rangers and police.

Click to play video: 'Difficult Canadian wildfire season expected to start early'
Difficult Canadian wildfire season expected to start early

“You’re going to see boats that are going to be deployed from the harbour here,” Danks explained. “You’re going to see an aircraft that’s going to be taking off behind you. You have the command centre so they’re going to be running tabletop exercises out of that area.”

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More than 100 personnel were involved in the drill, operating out of Deep Cove to access the simulated fire site that was only accessible by boat and air.

During the exercise, orange tape was used to demarcate the the active fireline, while white toilet paper was used to mark out simulated “hot spots.” Crews were only able to move on after completely dissolving the paper with water to simulate extinguishing the hot spots.

“It is incredibly encouraging to see exercises like this happen,” said North Vancouver MLA and Emergency Management and CLimate Readiness minister Bowinn Ma.

Click to play video: 'Canada gears up for potentially ‘explosive’ wildfire season'
Canada gears up for potentially ‘explosive’ wildfire season

B.C. faced more than 2,200 wildfires during its devastating 2023 season, which tore through nearly 3 million hectares of land, forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of structures.

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Ma said there were already dozens of wildfires burning in 2024, and persistent drought conditions and a provincial snowpack sitting at a 50-year low have officials worried about a possible repeat of last year’s season.

“It’s important to train and practice and validate their procedures and ensure they all know what to do in the case of an interface wildfire.”

“But we also know last year’s wildfire season wasn’t just about what was lost, but was also about what was saved and how the communities came together to support one another, how the province came together to support one another,” Ma said.

“There were firefighters from the North Shore who went into the Central Okanagan to support their efforts in protecting structures from interface fires, and to see that this group here is actually practicing that, not only for the benefit of residents on the North Shore but for the entire province, it’s incredibly encouraging.”

Crews on the North Shore aren’t the only ones rolling out drills this month. In Whistler, emergency crews are running a wildfire simulation next Thursday as they seek to prepare for the possibility of a wildfire.

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