Agassiz and Harrison’s local fire departments are prepared for another wildfire season, although what exactly that season will look like still remains to be seen.
“There’s a lot of planning going into it … through emergency services,” Trevor Todd, deputy fire chief for the Harrison Hot Springs Volunteer Fire Department, said. “It’s not just by luck anymore.”
For the most part, wildfires near Agassiz and Harrison happen on crown land, and are the responsibility of B.C. wildfire crews. Agassiz and Harrison firefighters are available as support for those crews.
“The biggest thing for us is to make sure the wild-land guys have enough water to do what they need to do,” Alex Maslin, captain with the Harrison fire department, said.
Both the Agassiz and the Harrison fire departments have been trained in handling wild land-urban interface fires, something that has proved important in the last several years, including the Mount Hicks fire last summer.
According to Agassiz’s deputy fire chief and emergency program coordinator Mike Van Laerhoven, the department has learned some valuable lessons from the fire last summer, and is looking to pursue more training for its firefighters.
“Last year, we learned that a quick response with units from multiple agencies, such as the B.C. Wildfire Service, is very important,” he said in an email. “Having appropriate resources dispatched immediately is essential for the best possible outcome.”
Ensuring mutual aid for the rest of the district is also important, he added.
“Our response to the Mount Hicks fire lasted approximately three weeks, which could have stretched the district’s resources thin if we did not received help from other agencies, such as Harrison Hot Springs, Popkum and Port Moody Fire Department,” he wrote.
For Maslin, who was one of three firefighters from Harrison to help with the Mount Hicks fire, the blaze showed how challenging wildfires can truly be.
“It definitely gives you a sense of respect for those guys,” he said. “They’re animals.”
“You’re hiking up goat trails, making your own path as you go,” he added. “You’re carrying two hoses at a time, and these forestry guys come up carrying six, passing you. They’re incredible.”
Surrounded by mountainside, the Agassiz-Harrison Valley has been a historically popular spot for wildfires over the last 100 years.
The 2018 Mount Hicks fire was in nearly the exact same location at a human-cased fire in 1951. That fire was more than 354 hectares.
There were a large number of significant fires in the 1940s, many of which encroached on what is now farmland or residential areas in the District of Kent and Harrison Hot Springs. Most of these were human-caused, including one 1,700-hectare fire that went from Sasquatch Provincial Park to what is now Harrison’s Eagle Street in 1938.
Exactly what this year’s wildfire season could look like is up in the air. B.C.’s “Early Summer Outlook” says that June rain will be an important factor in whether the province sees a fearsome fire season. (B.C. experienced a dry May and June in both 2017 and 2018, which saw a longer and busier fire season.)
“Every season’s been different so far,” Maslin said. “I mean, fires are getting a little bigger, a little more aggressive every year. But what that looks like for our region, who knows.”