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Canadian Smokejumpers in Action

by Colton Davies - Castanet News |

The unseasonably warm weather in the southern part of the province, which has prolonged the historic wildfire season, resulted in smokejumpers being sent in to help battle the Finlay Creek wildfire and Greyback Mountain wildfire this week.

The smokejumpers, who are based in Fort St. John as well as Mackenzie during the peak summer period, are often deployed to fires in northern B.C. that would take a long time for fire crews to get to on the ground.

These crews of firefighters are parachuted out of fixed-wing aircraft with supplies to last multiple days.

"Up north here where we are, there's very few towns from which to access fires from. So the speed and the range and the pay load of the fixed-wing aircraft make it the perfect tool for the north," Tom Reinboldt said, BC Wildfire Service protection officer, who added that the aircraft can get from Fort St. John to Kelowna in two hours.

Reinboldt said that his crew had 46 members and two aircrafts deployed during the peak summer months, but now it consists of one aircraft with 25-30 smokejumpers still fighting fires, as "some have gone back to school".

He added that it's unusual for the smokejumpers to work in the southern half of B.C.

"Generally there's just so much of a workload in the north that we don't get south."

In a fire season like this where extra resources are needed from the north, Reinboldt said in the past the smokejumpers have covered the additional area, while fire crews on the ground head south to support other crews.

"But this year's so intense that they're emptying the north of everything," Reinboldt said. "So we're actually still covering the north, but we're doing so from the south, because the aircraft can fly anywhere in the province and attack a fire directly.

"You have to risk-manage and put the resource where it's most likely to get the fire."

Reinboldt said that by Thursday, all of the smokejumpers who aren't on rest days will be based out of Kelowna.

Currently, two smokejumpers are helping fight the Finlay Creek wildfire; five personnel were sent there but three have returned home for reset days.

For the Greyback Mountain fire, which is being held, there will only be one smokejumper there as of Thursday, working as the incident commander.

The rest of the smokejumpers, according to Reinboldt, will be freed up to be re-deployed to other high-priority targets.