Matt Gilroy, a 13-year veteran of the Sechelt Volunteer Fire Department, was among the third crew of fire-fighters from Sechelt to go to Williams Lake from July 20 to July 26; Sechelt Fire Department was there from July 11 until August 9. He was stationed at Williams Lake fair grounds and was mostly tasked up Soda Creek Road to the north west of Williams Lake. He said the mills were a high priority to save people’s jobs. He had many tasks while there, one of them was “fire-smarting”.
Gilroy, who is employed by the Sechelt department as the fire prevention officer, said fire-smarting includes, “knocking on doors seeing if people were inside, clearing stuff away from houses, like propane tanks and other combustibles, going house to house through the neighbourhoods,” he explained. He also assisted on smaller fires, shuttling water to other fire fighters in portable tanks and extinguishing smoldering ground fires around houses.
He did run into people who chose to stay at their property despite the evacuation order. He says there was one resident in Williams Lake, who informed the task force that he was staying, and had months of food stored.
Gilroy describes his daily routine, which started when they got up at the Sandman Inn: get to the fairgrounds by 9am; 10am, sign in, breakfast and pack a lunch, daily safety briefing and task force briefing, then get deployed for the day.
The fire truck, known as a tender, hauls water into the fire area. He explains that Sechelt’s tender would usually be called “Tanker 1”, but at the fire site a “tanker” refers to a water bomber. You had to be careful not to call for a tanker when what you wanted was a tender, or you would get a water bomber.
The fire truck from Sechelt was driven to the Cariboo by the first crew and remained there until the last crew drove it back over the Coquihalla. The fire truck required a lot of cleaning to get all the bugs off it.
Matt described the town as “eerie” with no one there, except military and police at the intersections and fire engines driving around. He described the air quality as, “not too bad compared how it was two weeks prior”.
Matt worked with crews from all over BC, Alberta and Ontario and says they were, “Great people from all over the place.” He was, “Glad to do our part to help. I wish everyone the best. I want to give my condolences to those who lost their homes.” He feels that, generally, “Williams Lake will be okay, it was mostly the outskirts that were affected by the fire.”
Gilroy warns people, “the more rural you are the more important it is to be fire-smart.” He has a few booklets on being fire-smart available at the Sechelt Volunteer Fire Department.
Submitted by Cathalynn Cindy Labonte-Smith, from her blog, www.thegibsonsgirl.com