September 6, 2017 8:57 pm

Meet the people on the front lines of the Finlay Creek wildfire


It’s been five days since the Finlay Creek wildfire sprung to life threatening the communities of Peachland and Summerland.

The fire hasn’t seen significant growth and is still pegged at 1,000 hectares in size.

All evacuation orders and alerts remain in place.

Global Okanagan was given an aerial tour of the fire zone on Wednesday.

From the air the sheer scope of the Finlay Creek wildfire is evident.

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Patches of smoke billow from charred hillsides. Areas are blanketed in red retardant and pine and fir trees have been burnt like matchsticks.

The tinder-dry conditions and steep rocky terrain pose challenges for the people tasked with tackling the wildfire.

Fatigue is setting in for a ground crew from Merritt.

Dalton Suzuki and Clint Alexander have already spent 80 days on the fire line elsewhere in B.C. during the worst fire season on record.

“Long hours and putting in hard work all day long,” Suzuki said of the toughest challenge he’s faced.

“It gets tough some days,” Alexander added.

Ground crews are responsible for running hose lays, building guards and falling danger trees.

“We actually just got a call for a spot that we’re going to go check out and put it out,” Suzuki said.

Hugh Murdoch is the Incident Commander and is responsible for managing the Finlay Creek fire team.

“We like a challenge, it is what we train for, we wouldn’t wish this fire season on the province, but it’s what we are faced with so we are happy to be in a position to help out,” he said.

Jean-Marc Messner is a pilot with 49 helicopters in Campbell River. His helicopter company has been hired for three days to help assess the fire and plot strategy.

“They’re looking for the fire behaviour… where to move people,” he said.

The BC Wildfire Service is bolstering resources in the air and on the ground.

There are now 10 helicopters, 47 firefighters and 23 pieces of heavy equipment battling the wildfire.

With winds calming down, crews are starting to get the upper hand on the blaze, but say it’s a marathon not a sprint.

“I feel like when we have put in a good day’s work, you end up leaving on a high note,” Suzuki said.

Murdoch was asked about the emotional toll the long fire season has had on front line firefighters.

“You don’t win every day and sometimes you lose a lot, you can’t take it personally. Emotionally you just try to keep it all in check because Mother Nature is not getting emotional about it either,” he said.

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