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Shuswap locals join BC Wildfire Service on the front line

Locals from the Shuswap area are now joining BC Wildfire Service crews on the front lines after taking part in a recognized training program.

The move comes more than a week after the Adams Complex fires tore through the area, also sparking days of tensions. Locals said they felt abandoned, while fire officials were accusing residents of stealing firefighting equipment.

On Sunday a food truck operator from Scotch Creek posted a video to Instagram featuring fire information officer Mike McCulley, with a request to locals to join forces with the BC Wildfire Service. 

“We need your expertise, we need your local knowledge,” McCulley said in the video. “We’re trying to put the past behind and throw down the gauntlet a little bit and build some trust between us and we need you to come work for us.”

During Monday’s update from the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, McCulley confirmed community members had taken part in a recognized training program which allows them to work alongside the BC Wildfire Service. At least 17 residents were working with crews on Monday, with more expected on Tuesday.

They joined a team of more than 250 wildland firefighters working in the area Monday, including a crew from South Africa, as well as 97 structure protection personnel and 17 helicopters.

“The local community and the local government took a great initiative here to try to work with us a little bit by getting that training done,” he said. “Bringing the locals in and really having them coming to get together to support our effort - we’re very, very grateful for it.”

“It's not just about the work. It's about the knowledge that these folks have. They’re from here, they live on the land, they know what's going on, and so we're grateful to have them,” he continued.

The program, known as S-100, is offered by BC Wildfire Service-endorsed instructors teaching basic fire suppression and safety. It’s offered over two days.


Property owner Bill Epp said having local residents trained in firefighting has been successful in Kamloops. Just a few weeks ago the Rossmoore Lake wildfire tore through his 160-acre property in Knutsford, scorching about 75 per cent of his land. His home was saved by local residents.

“The first three days of the fire we had no help except locals,” Epp said. “The help from the community was overwhelming and when (BC Wildfire Service) came on, they just started working with us.”

Given the impacts of climate change, Epp said community members were eager to get the training, so they could protect homes when a wildfire came through.

“The day was going to come,” he said. “We felt secure that we could save all the structures, we didn’t know so much about everything else around us.”


At a provincial news conference Monday, BCWS director of operations Cliff Champman said the “expandability” of such a program wherein locals can join forces with the firefighting agency is “quite present.”

“What's happening in the Shuswap, I think, is a great collective effort from the CSRD, local residents of that area and BC Wildfire Service really working together to try to achieve a common outcome, protecting people's homes and getting people home sooner,” he said.

“It's something that we are capturing and are very interested in pursuing as we head into the fall and look forward to our evolution as we head into the 2024 fire season.”

He added that those joining the BCWS ranks are not volunteers, but paid hires.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Kaija Jussinoja Top Stories

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