(L-r) Gina Walchuk, manager of the Interior Savings Credit Union branch in Clearwater, presents a $3,000 cheque to Steve Murray, Alex Kramer and Jerry Kynl of the Upper Clearwater wildfire suppression crew. The money will be used to help purchase a pump for the unofficial crew.

Upper Clearwater fire crew gets help from credit union

Unofficial forest fire crew presently has 22 trained members plus another eight in training

By Keith McNeill

A volunteer forest fire suppression crew that began in Upper Clearwater during last summer’s wildfire continues to develop.

READ MORE: Upper Clearwater forms its own fire crew (Sept. 26, 2017)

Last week Interior Savings Credit Union donated $3,000 to help the crew.

“Its a pleasure to give this to you guys,” said ISCU Clearwater branch manager Gina Walchuk.

The money will be used to help buy a Waterax Mark 3 pump. Commonly known as the Wajax, the pump is a standard workhorse for forest fire crews across North America. Cost for a new one is about $5,400.

“We need to be proactive in Upper Clearwater,” said crew boss Steve Murray. “We’re 4 ½ hours from Kamloops. By the time they arrive, whatever’s happening has happened.”

Murray appeared to be referring to the recent consolidation of the Clearwater Fire Zone with Kamloops and the decrease in the staff at the local Forest Service and Wildfire Management Branch offices.

READ MORE: Fire zone boundary redrawn (Sept. 10, 2017)

He gave as an example a small fire that started last year near the power-line into the Upper Clearwater. He and two other members of the crew had it under control before official crews arrived.

Upper Clearwater is outside the zone covered by Clearwater Fire Department and so has no structural fire protection.

“We won’t be doing any structural fire suppression, just trying to keep wildfires away from people’s homes,” Murray said.

The objective will be to hit small wildfires before they become big. If things get out of hand, they will back off.

“We know our limitations,” said Murray.

The crew presently has 22 trained members plus another eight in training, he reported.

Murray is qualified to teach 14 of the 17 province’s wilderness firefighting courses.

With the experience of last year’s wildfire season in B.C., plus the ongoing extended season in California, much of the curriculum has been re-written, he said.

Some of the new video training is interactive so people can learn such things as the most strategic ways to lay out hose-lines.

Next step in the training will be to burn some slash piles in Upper Clearwater. During last summer’s wildfire season, many residents cut back branches and trees to FireSmart their properties. Now that debris needs to be burned.

The volunteer fire crew is negotiating with Thompson-Nicola Regional District and Carol Schaffer, TNRD director for Area A (Wells Gray Country) to obtain a used pumper truck.

Such firetrucks can only be in service for a certain number of years before they are retired. Often they have only a few kilometers of use on them and would be usable for an unofficial crew such as in Upper Clearwater.

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