Based at the turn-off to Predator Ridge Golf Course, the Vernon Fire Stalkers are one of seven 20-person unit crews in the Kamloops Fire Centre zone, ready to be deployed at any moment.
With members from Kelowna, Lake Country and Vernon, the crew is the closest based unit crew to Kelowna and so it was no surprise they were one of the first crews to respond to the Huckleberry Fire in Joe Rich on July 3 and remained on the scene in a mop-up capacity on Monday.
“I love this job,” said Kelowna native Azi Sadi, 24, as he worked a hose hitting hot spots in the fire zone. “It’s very team-oriented. Everyone works hard with a good attitude. When you have 20 guys working together and working hard you can really accomplish a lot.”
When the B.C. Wildfire Service first received numerous calls about the fire along Highway 33 near Joe Rich, it immediately deployed two of its three-member initial attack crews as well as air tanker support. First on the scene was the Joe Rich Fire Department followed by the initial attack crew, which was flown in by helicopter.
When Sadi and the Vernon Fire Stalkers arrived they were tasked with digging hand-guard on the outside flanks of the fire, digging a two to thee foot wide trench that goes as deep as it takes to get to mineral soil.
“We were digging guard up the fire’s flanks, that’s hard work using our hand tools to dig a trench in the ground,” he said. “We had 10 guys on each side, digging guard. There was the Joe Rich Fire Department doing fire protection (on structures) and then the air tankers and helicopters arrived. We rely on them as much as they rely on us. It was quite the air show. The first day was really intense.”
The Vernon Fire Stalkers feature a wide range of ages and experience, from grizzled veterans with over 20 years experience, to young men like Sadi, in his second season fighting fires, looking towards a job as a city firefighter. Also on scene on Monday during mop up were students from Rutland Senior Secondary’s high school forestry program as well as an instructor.
By Tuesday the Fire Stalkers had been pulled off mop-up control and sent to another higher priority blaze in the province while contract crews (38 people on Tuesday) moved in to continue mopping up.
For Sadi, this year has already featured several deployments while at the same time last year his crew had yet to be called into action. He’s been to Osoyoos in 40 degree temperatures and already to Fort Nelson, Salmon Arm, Lake Country and Prince George.
“It’s been a really busy summer so far. The last busiest year like this was 2009,” he said, adding the crews realize the importance of their job, especially when fighting a blaze in an interface area with nearby residences. “People’s property and homes and even the trees, everything matters. It’s quite strenuous. You’re drinking 12 to 18 bottles of water a day. One thing about it is it doesn’t matter where you sleep, you get a quality sleep because you’re so tired.”