Being deployed to Quebec was definitely one of this summer’s highlights for three firefighters from the Cariboo Fire Centre.
Dylan Begin, Robert Lomavatu, and Jordan Magnuson of Williams Lake were among the 20-member CFC Vesta Unit crew and a supervisor that travelled to Quebec from July 7 to 17.
They stayed in a logging camp 150 kilometres north of Chibougamau to help with basic fire suppression in the region.
Begin, 24, said firefighting in Quebec was similar to what they do in B.C. They worked to establish control lines and putting water on the fire.
While it was 21-year-old Lomavatu’s first time in Quebec, he noticed the fuel type was similar to what he has seen fighting fires in the northern parts of B.C., Alberta and Ontario.
“It’s more muskeg with smaller black spruce,” Lomavatu explained.
Magnuson, 21, said it was the 2013 Vesta Crew’s first big deployment and it was good to see the “chemistry flowing.”
“We’ve got a few new people this year and it was good getting a chance to work with everyone on a fire,” he explained. “We’ve had a few fires this year but have been split off as squads so having the whole 20 pack working together was good.”
Crew members have different jobs, Lomavatu said. If someone has been on the crew longer they might be on the chainsaw working as a faller, whereas newer members will do more hosing for example.
“But day to day our job on the fire really depends on fire activity or the objectives that an overhead team gives us,” Lomavatu said. “It’s pretty variable for what we’re doing as a crew.”
The longest day was 17 hours with an average of 12 hour days.
One thing that caught them off guard was the three-hour time difference, Magnuson said.
“We were waking up between 4 a.m. and 4:30 for breakfast, that’s 1:30 our time, so it took a little bit of time to adjust to that.”
At the end of the day, they’d run to the cook for food, shower and basically fall into bed, he added.
“The day we arrived at the fire it was going on some pretty big runs,” Magnuson said. “The next few days rain clouds came in and knocked it down pretty good so by the end we were just hitting smokes here and there and not much was left by the time we returned home.”
Compared to anything the crew has tackled in the Cariboo this season, where in total just over 1,000 hectares have burned in total of 62 fires, the Quebec fire was fairly large, covering more than 1,700 hectares.
“I have been at larger fires in Fort McMurray in 2011,” Begin said. “That one was over a million hectares.”
One of the main challenges was the language barrier in Northern Quebec, but the crew members did “pretty well.”
“We had a couple of people who were fluent so it was kind of fun that way,” Lomavatu said.
It was Magnuson’s first time in Quebec and he found the French aspect was “cool.”
“I took French through high school but never got to the point where I was fluent so it was fun picking up from what I’d learned in high school.”
The person in charge of the fire was “fairly” bilingual, but ordering food and grocery shopping required Magnuson’s French skills.
“That’s really where we picked it up most,” he admitted.
For Begin the cultural differences made it seem as if he was in a different country because everywhere in Northern Quebec everyone is constantly speaking French.
“You take it for granted that everyone in B.C. speaks English,” Begin said.
Echoing Begin, Lomavatu said the cultural diversity gave him a broader picture of Canada and overall it was a good deployment.
“I think our crew learned a lot.”
Magnuson said the team aspect of firefighting is a big draw.
“I played hockey all my life and it’s a lot like a hockey team working with a bunch of guys and girls. You build some good friendships and it’s a fun job, you get to do a lot of things.”
Average people don’t necessarily get to fly in helicopters, he added.
Back at the base in Williams Lake the crew prepares the gear for the next fire, works on fuel management projects on Fox Mountain, and engages in public awareness.
“That’s continual and will go over a few years,” fire information officer Greig Bethel said of the fuel management project. “Crews will do that when they aren’t fighting fires here or deployed somewhere else.”
Begin is a fourth year student at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Resource Sciences and said he’ll return to firefighting next summer.
Lomavatu is a Biology student going into his fourth year of the Bachelor of Science at Trinity Western University, while Magnuson is transferring to the University of Victoria for mechanical engineering.
“A lot of our firefighters are university and college students during the winter and fight fires in the summer,” Bethel said.