May 28, 2018 9:46 pm
Updated: May 29, 2018 12:23 am

Out of the flood and into the fire: wildfire crews facing a long season

WATCH: Summer has not arrived yet but several evacuation orders and alerts remain in place as B.C. crews try to contain major wildfires burning in the province. Geoff Hastings has the latest.

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It’s out of the flood and into the fires for crews with the BC Wildfire Service, who are bracing for another long season.

But chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek says while the two seasons overlapped this year, lending a helping hand on flood efforts won’t impact firefighting work.

At the peak of the flooding, Skrepnek said about 300 staff from the wildfire service were assisting with mitigation efforts.

READ MORE: Forestry crews jump from flood to fire zone

“Not only helping out with sandbagging efforts but also assisting Emergency Management B.C. in terms of the coordination and response, you know, specialist people from wildfire with quite a bit of experience in terms of logistics and planning, command stuff,” he said.

That’s nearly a third of the service’s some 1,000 full-time front line staff.

WATCH: Intensity of huge B.C. wildfire caught on camera


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With melting snowpacks somewhat depleted and flood fears beginning to recede in several areas of B.C.’s Interior, wildfire crews have now put down the sandbags and turned their attention to their primary mandate.

READ MORE: 2017 wildfires exacerbate flood risk in B.C. Interior, as hundreds remain evacuated

“Thankfully the flooding situation did stabilize a little bit over the last few weeks which, thankfully, was as our wildfire needs started to pick up,” said Skrepnek.

“We do still have personnel out there assisting with flooding, it’s about 63 folks as of [Sunday]. The vast majority of those people though are contractors. Given the wildfire situation we’ve got most of our own personnel dedicated to fire response.”

This is the second consecutive year in which flood season and fire season have overlapped. Last year, more than 160 ministry firefighters headed to the Central Okanagan to help battle the flooding.

WATCH: Firefighters lend a hand during 2017 flooding

In 2017, the flood season stretched well into June, with major wildfire problems cropping up by early July.

Skrepnek said the service learned some lessons from that experience and in order to help combat fatigue, crews on flood duty worked seven-day rotations instead of their traditional two-week stint.

Crews were also given a basic swift-water awareness course to ensure they can work safely in flood conditions.

BC Wildfire Service crews were a key part of efforts to stave off flooding in 2017, filling sandbags, building protective walls and helping with cleanup.

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Skrepnek said there is no doubt that the working year for firefighters is expanding, and that the service is keeping that in mind as it plans for the future.

“We are taking a long look at our resourcing right now. Not just crews, overall personnel — where they’re located, how they’re configured,” he said.

“That’s going to be a significant process, I mean it’s a large organization and pretty big mandate, even just in terms of fire response.”

He said if there is a silver lining to the longer seasons, it is that the service is staffed up and ready to help earlier in the year when flood issues crop up.

As for whether crews will face a repeat of last year’s record fire season, Skrepnek said it depends largely on how much rain the province gets in June.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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