Dave Thorpe of Trinity Valley spent a week near Burns Lake with Team Rubicon Canada, a disaster response group, helping clean up from the summer’s wildfires near the Central Interior community. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

North Okanagan man teams up with disaster response group

Dave Thorpe and Team Rubicon Canada complete deployment to Burns Lake for wildfire relief

Watching American television, Dave Thorpe saw a recruitment advertisement for a disaster relief group known as Team Rubicon, created following the 7.3 magnitude Haiti earthquake in 2010.

Thorpe, 68, a retired construction electrician who lives in the North Okanagan’s Trinity Valley, between Lumby and Enderby, who spent five years in the B.C. Dragoons, always wanted to do disaster response help.

He Googled Team Rubicon and discovered a Canadian branch of the umbrella group. Thorpe applied, was accepted, and just finished his first disaster relief deployment, spending seven days in late October in B.C.’s Central Interior near Burns Lake, which was devastated this year by wildfires.

RELATED: B.C. residents defy evacuation orders as wildfires burn

Thorpe was one of 15 members of Operation Northern Lights.

“People lost everything up there. They lost their homes. One guy lost his home, sawmill and heavy equipment,” said Thorpe. “We went and did muck-up, gathered everything that could be disposed of, and did a sawyer course. There are always trees that are down. We need certified sawyers to go on these deployments so we got on-the-spot training and we cut up firewood.”

Rubicon gets sponsorship from Stihl, who provide chainsaws and training.

According to teamrubicon.ca, Team Rubicon “recruits, trains, equips, organizes and deploys veterans to aid in disaster response operations around the world. This is our way of bridging the gap between returning veterans and their home communities. We demonstrate – to society and individual veterans alike – that veterans are powerful resources with skills to be harnessed.”

“Half the team in Burns Lake were veterans,” said Thorpe. “We recruit veterans and kick-ass civilians.”

Team Rubicon Canada started after a wildfire known as The Beast ravaged Fort McMurray, Alta. in May 2016, destroying more than 2,400 homes and displacing more than 80,000 residents. Having established a strong and well-known desire to create a Team Rubicon in Canada, a small team of Canadian veterans set to work with their teammates at Team Rubicon USA to assess how to best support the residents impacted by the Fort McMurray wildfire.

On May 29, 2016, volunteers from the USA, Canada — and eventually the UK and Australia — arrived in Fort McMurray and set to work on what became known as Operation Pay Dirt. Team Rubicon’s 80 volunteers would train an additional 300 locals to assist more than 900 homeowners to sift through their properties to recover their valuables.

Since Operation Pay Dirt, more than 30 Team Rubicon Canada members have deployed on operations abroad.

RELATED: Protest erupts after B.C. Wildfire Service nixes sprinkler idea to combat large fire

Operation Northern Lights in Burns Lake was exhilarating for Thorpe.

“They were long days, long hours,” he said. “We started wheels on the ground at 8:30 in the morning, often back for a late supper at around 6:30 or 7 p.m. We did that for seven days.

“I felt really good. I’ve been retired three or four years, I don’t do a lot, just sit around a lot, and my health got worse. After three days of long hard hours, I felt good. I could run up and down stairs at the bible camp where we billeted. The first two days, I was hobbling around. I woke up the third day and felt so good. My health was picking up just doing something.”

Team Rubicon Canada is actively recruiting more volunteers. Information can be found on the website.

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