Soldier talks wildfire situation in B.C.

0

A B.C. bride who was set on tying the knot at a local school in Williams Lake was a little alarmed when she arrived at her wedding, finding military personnel on scene and ready to set up camp.
“I promised them nothing military would be there and everything was good to go, but one of our contractors had a different idea and they showed up at the wedding with a 50-foot trailer,” says Kim Doerr, master warrant officer with the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry based at the Edmonton Garrison.
“We had to calm everyone down and get the truck out of there,” he laughs.Soldiers from the infantry are now relieving soldiers from the 1 Combat Engineer Regiment from assisting in Williams Lake, another group normally based in Edmonton.

Doerr lives in St. Albert and has been in Williams Lake for nearly two weeks with the infantry. He has been overseeing camp setup for firefighters battling the blaze on the front lines.

In addition, he says the infantry will help the RCMP in their efforts of public safety. This includes traffic, setting up barricades and helping with evacuation orders.

Doerr says this is his first time being deployed to assist in wildfire efforts. He has been with the Canadian Armed Forces for 19 years.

“It’s very different. Anytime I went to Afghanistan, you went there with one mission and it was a very simple objective. For this one it’s not what we trained for when we joined the Canadian Armed Forces.”

He says working on the fires requires managing different civilian and military agencies, as well as making sure the local population is comfortable with the military presence.

“The people of Williams Lake have been absolutely accepting of us and have been nothing but hospitable,” he says.

There are around 450 soldiers on the ground, with 200 assisting the RCMP, 150 assisting mop-up efforts of the fires and 50 providing combat support across the province.

He says the operation has been relatively stress-free in comparison to operations overseas, but there have been some challenging circumstances.

On Saturday Doerr was tasked with organizing contractors to set up a camp for firefighters. Just 20 seconds after leaving Williams Lake on Highway 20, he says he lost all cell reception.

“Once we get out there we’re literally without any communications,” he says. “If they don’t (show up on time) then there’s nothing we can do.”

The camp is a place where firefighters can shower, use the washroom, eat, drink and rest. Luckily the contractors found the right place and arrived on time.

As of Sunday there were 140 wildfires burning across the province, including nine that had started on Saturday.

There have been 975 wildfires since April, burning a total of 651,000 hectares of land across B.C.

On July 15 an evacuation order was issued for Williams Lake. By July 27 the evacuation order was lifted and thousands were able to return home.

On Sunday the federal government approved 300 additional military personnel to assist as low-level firefighters until the beginning of September.

For more information on the wildfires and the Canadian Armed Forces visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/campaign/wildfires-in-british-columbia.html

Share.

About Author

Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.