Over 300 firefighters from as close as Kelowna to as far as Victoria touched down in Penticton on Saturday, April 23, for wildfire training at Rotary Park.
It was a day filled with learning opportunities, starting in classrooms at the Lakeside Resort, where crews were provided with tools and resources to operate effectively and safely ahead of the anticipated wildfire season.
“Unfortunately, if you look back at the last three to five years, we’ve had pretty severe wildfire seasons,” said Kurtis Isfeld, the deputy director of provincial operations at BC Wildfire Service.
“It’s about bringing together firefighters that are going to be working in that space.”
For some on Saturday, it was about building relationships with their fellow firefighters — an aspect of the job described as “crucial” by Isfeld.
And for others, it was a day to think about their own community and how they can apply their newly-acquired knowledge to protect the homeowners who live there.
“Our community is kind of tucked away in the forest, so a great training opportunity like this doesn’t come around all the time,” said Shane Vandewater, a volunteer firefighter from Smithers. “We all go into the fire service to do some good for our community and we all just want to do better for them.”
Protecting the properties of those most vulnerable to wildfires was a point of emphasis on Saturday, especially for Kelsey Winter, who arrived in Penticton from Victoria on Saturday to educate more people on the importance of FireSmart communities.
“This weekend is about training the firefighters to prepare them to protect people’s properties,” she said, representing the BC Wildfire Service. “The FireSmart program enables homeowners to make changes so that they’re doing their part to fight those wildfires.”
Winter added that a recent survey conducted by her organization showed that an overwhelming number of British Columbians believe that there is something they can do to make a difference during wildfire season.
“They just need to be told what to do,” she said. “People understand that wildfires are a threat, they are getting worse and that climate change isn’t going anywhere fast.”
At the height of wildfire season in 2021, BC Wildfire Service said that there was a daily number of 300 blazes.
A Skaha Creek wildfire southwest of Penticton was among the severe blazes in the final weeks of the season in the Peach City last summer, with the fire growing to over six hectares.
The training event will wrap up on Sunday, with more on-the-ground work slated for the day.
“Massive” changes and improvements in how crews operate during blazes have come out of the annual training, according to Penticton Fire Chief, Larry Watkinson.
“The impact of better protecting homes directly through this training is evident,” he said. “We need to get better at it, and we are getting better at it based on this training.”