In British Columbia, more than 2,300 workers are risking their lives battling upwards of 200 active wildfires. Reporter Andrea Woo and photographer John Lehmann joined one team putting out a blaze along the Sunshine Coast
ANDREA WOO – SECHELT, B.C.
Working swiftly, they march into the bush, yellowed grass and parched tree branches crunching under the weight of their boots.
They tip their drip-torches, spilling flaming fuel onto the arid land. The fires spread, racing across the carpet of tinder-dry earth, then upward, consuming trees that are 10 or more metres high. The heat – warm at first, then uncomfortably intense – forces others to hustle down the dusty logging road.
They are members of the B.C. Wildfire Service, one of several teams fighting more than 200 active wildfires in the province. They are conducting a controlled burn on the periphery of what’s being called the Old Sechelt Mine fire – a smaller blaze whose proximity to town has elevated it to one of B.C.’s highest priority wildfires. Creating a clean control line consumes fuel in the fire’s path, suppressing it.
It is the fire that claimed the life of John Phare, a logger of more than 40 years, who was much loved in the community. The 60-year-old, who was contracted to cut down trees near the fire, died last weekend when he was struck by a falling tree. Mr. Phare was to marry his fiancée soon; his daughter weds on Saturday.
“He was going to walk her down the aisle, but now her brother’s going to walk her down,” Mr. Phare’s brother, Lonnie, said on Friday. “It was the wrong timing for everything.”
More than 2,300 workers are handling B.C.’s wildfires, including 1,700 firefighters deployed throughout the province.
The tragic death – during an early wildfire season made more challenging by exceptionally dry conditions – is a reminder of the people who face tremendous risks to battle the flames and protect the communities they serve.
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