2021 BC Wildfires: Thank you to all the firefighters and personnel for your courage and bravery

British Columbia’s 2021 wildfire season was one of the most intense and destructive in the province’s history. A combination of dry conditions, hot weather, and vigorous winds created extreme fire behaviour that challenged suppression efforts more than ever.

The BC wildfire season began when the George Road fire, south of Lytton, was reported on June 17. As of July 20, 299 wildfires were burning in BC, with 40 evacuation orders affecting approximately 5,724 people (2,862 properties). Sadly, that was only the beginning; the hot and dry conditions didn’t subside and despite firefighters’ best efforts, many homes, businesses, and communities were destroyed by the blaze. On July 21, BC announced a provincial state of emergency for wildfires, which was extended three times before being lifted on September 14. At the end of the season, 1,585 fires had burned 868,600 hectares in the province.

At the peak of the season, more than 3,600 personnel were fighting the fires, including help from MexicoAustralia, and across Canada. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread fires worldwide, BC had trouble obtaining resources from other jurisdictions as it has in the past.

While the days were grueling, fire crews continued to show up, work hard, and do whatever possible to help save the communities surrounded by fire. On most days, firefighters were awake and eating breakfast by 5:00 am and then jumping into their vehicles and travelling to the fire line. They worked a minimum of 12-16 hour shifts and sometimes longer depending on the fire activity and values (homes, community infrastructure, water supply, power grids, etc.) at risk. At the end of their shift, they’d drive back to camp, eat dinner, and settle into their tents to reset for another long day.

The Globe and Mail featured some of the wildfire heroes at the Vernon Wildfire Camp. Here are few words from the firefighters themselves:

Jessie Notot (Photo credit: Globe and Mail)

“I’m from France. I’ve been in Quebec eight years. I’m 20 and this is my first year with the SOPFEU crew. It’s been a busy summer and I am so happy to be here helping the people of B.C. I have never found a job that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but I think I have found my place being a firefighter.” – Jessie Notot, Societé de protection des forêts contre le feu

Azmere Chaudhry (Photo credit: Globe and Mail)

“Honestly, this entire season has been an experience in itself with how busy it’s been. Everyone is definitely feeling tired, but the camaraderie and care for each other amongst fire crews, support staff and the public is what’s keeping everyone going strong.” – Azmere Chaudhry

In addition, Rhys Wiechula, Unit Crew Supervisor for the BC Wildfire Service, shared his experience in the Merritt Herald. “I feel like the work that we do is very meaningful, especially in a season like this where you can see the direct impact of our successful work, you can measure it in terms of lifting Evacuation Orders to Alerts and lifting Alerts,” said Wiechula. “Helping people get back into their homes, protecting people’s homes and infrastructures, in BC and around the country, it’s rewarding work.”

BC Wildfire Service also worked closely with many equipment operators, helicopter pilots, forestry companies, support staff, and volunteers throughout the season. In BC, we are fortunate to have so many willing and able to help.

Take West Fraser, for example, one of the many forestry companies who worked with the BC Wildfire Service during the wildfire season, offering equipment and personnel to assist where possible. They contributed over 38 person days patrolling for fires after lightning strikes, over 22 equipment supervisor days, and conducted helicopter flight patrols to help discover fires. Consultants and contractors of the organization also supported by putting equipment to use and dedicating many days to various ground crew tasks, line location, and supervision.

You may also recognize this local company: Vancouver Island Helicopters sent ten choppers to battle the fires across BC. According to an article in the Vancouver Island Free Daily, the company has never been as busy as it was during the 2021 fire season. “The courage, bravery and commitment of everyone involved in fighting wildfires is commendable, and we are very proud to be a part of those efforts,” said Jen Norie, General Manager, VIH Helicopters.

It’s also important to recognize the efforts of all the support staff and volunteers supporting those on the fire lines – whether it be chiropractors, massage therapists, cooks, first aid attendants, etc. During August, volunteers treated close to 150 staff and personnel in the evenings.

It is with heartfelt gratitude that we thank all the firefighters, private contractors, support staff, volunteers, and everyone else involved for their hard work and tireless efforts this season.