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'They were good men': Colleague remembers 4 B.C. wildland firefighters killed in head-on collision near Kamloops

A team leader at Tomahawk Ventures, a company contracted by the province to fight forest fires, is remembering four colleagues who died when their pickup truck crashed into a semi truck on the Trans-Canada Highway near Kamloops early Tuesday morning.

Josh Weisner says a 10-man crew from Tomahawk had just wrapped up a 14-day firefighting assignment near Fort St. James on Monday, and they split into two vehicles for the drive back to their home base in Kamloops.

His good friend and fellow team leader Kenneth Patrick got into the other truck.

“The last thing he said to me is, 'You say jump, and I say how high.' He was talking about the next tour. He always looked up to me,” said Weisner. “I saw him making a plan for the trip home, because we have to write it down. And I just left him to do his paperwork, and that was the last time I saw him.”

After he returned home, Weisner became concerned when messages to the four men in the other truck were not being returned.

”I continued to message them to see if they made it back safely. Didn’t get an answer. Just assumed that they were having a good time or stopped to rest somewhere. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case,” said Weisner.

Tuesday morning, news began trickling out about a fatal head-on collision on the Trans-Canada highway between a pickup and a semi truck.

“I knew it in my heart, but I didn’t want to find out, I didn’t want to hear it,” said Weisner. "It wasn’t until a few hours later that I got some messages from friends that confirmed that there were no survivors.”

Weisner remembers his friend Patrick as having a tough exterior and a heart of gold.

“He always did his best," Weisner said. "He was a hard worker. He was a Grade A firefighter out there. I loved working alongside of him.”

Online posts confirm 19-year-old Jaxon Billyboy also died in the accident.

“It was his first time in the bush. It was his first time in any job like that. He was all smiles, all hot to go, very quiet, you know, reserved. But he was the first to listen, the first to learn, the first to ask questions. It was such a blessing to teach him,” said Weisner of Billyboy.

Family have also identified Blain Sonnenberg as one of the victims.

“Blain, he was all smiles all the time out there too. Always positive energy,” said Weisner, who added he had a good heart-to-heart with the fourth victim on their final day on the job. CTV News is not naming the fourth victim until his full name can be confirmed.

Weisner is still coming to terms with the sudden loss of four firefighting colleagues.

“I think talking about them and remembering the good memories really helps. I have got a lot of support too. It’s a brotherhood. I didn’t want to reach out to anybody, but they all reached out to me,” Weisner said, adding: “They were good men.”

The team at Tomahawk is now mourning four members who have spent their summer doing back-breaking and sometimes dangerous work, in B.C.’s worst-ever forest fire season.

“Most of us are First Nations on Tomahawk, and I know personally all of us have been through trauma. And I think this is why we chose this occupation was to help communities,” Weisner said. “We all enjoy the hard work, and it’s the camaraderie, you know. We are all a brotherhood out there, and sisters, beautiful sisters that contribute and work harder than some of the guys.”

While losing friends and colleagues is devastating, Weisner will not hesitate to continue his work as a wildland firefighter.

“This is 100 per cent my career, it’s been for 21 years now. There is not enough of us. I will not back down,” Weisner said. “We all choose this dangerous job that is physically demanding and so rewarding, to hear from community members who come and thank us.”

A candlelight vigil is being planned for the victims at Memorial Park in the community of Chase on Saturday, Sept. 23, at dusk. Top Stories

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