July 31, 2019 8:16 pm
Updated: July 31, 2019 8:53 pm

On the front lines: Meet the unsung heroes of the Richter Mountain wildfire


Soot-covered faces, sweat dripping under the beating sun — it’s back-breaking, grueling work to be a wildland firefighter.

“It’s very demanding,” said firefighter Jamie Vonsacken.

“I would say most folks on the crew are putting away six litres of water in 10 hours.”

The 30-year-old Vancouver native is fighting the 403-hectare Richter Mountain wildfire, burning 14 km south of Cawston, B.C. in the Similkameen Valley.

WATCH: Ranchers battle Richter Mountain wildfire near Cawston, BC

Just six days ago, it was a raging inferno licking Highway 3 and threatening properties below, prompting an evacuation alert for 10 homes, as well as smoke advisories.

By Monday, crews had the lightning-caused wildfire under control and it was classified as “being held.”

READ MORE: Okanagan weather: high 20s or low 30s linger into August

“It’s obviously very satisfying for us when we can achieve such effectiveness on a fire,” Vonsacken said.

On Wednesday, the BC Wildfire Service took Global News to the front lines of the fire fight to meet the people responsible for suppressing the blaze.

Leonard Thompson is an operator doing as much heavy lifting as his machine

“The first night here was long,” he said. “I started at 10 p.m. and worked until 6 in the morning.”

READ MORE: Richter Mountain blaze a not-so-gentle reminder of how quickly wildfires can grow

Thompson built machine guards to provide access to firefighters in otherwise inoperable terrain.

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WATCH: Richter Mountain wildfire now estimated at 400 hectares in size

“We put in the fire guards for the crews so they can get closer in and to run their hoses right into the edge of the fire.”

The fire fight isn’t limited to the ground, though.

“We also used quite abit of aviation resources, mainly to hold the fire where it is and get the crews in , so [to] buy us some time to get the crews on to the fire,” said operations sections chief Ransome Hall.

READ MORE: 145 personnel continue to attack Richter Mountain fire: BC Wildfire Service

The next battle could be just around the corner.

As temperatures climb, so does the fire danger rating, now extreme in the South Okanagan-Similkameen region.

But these unsung heroes will be there.

“We will be ready and we will be prepared,” Hall said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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