Under sunny skies government officials helped open the brand new $7.1 million Cariboo Fire Centre at the Williams Lake Airport Thursday.
Built by Lauren Brothers Construction of Williams Lake, the new centre’s buildings replace 11 separate structures and trailers, some which were 40 years old.
“The construction of this amazing new building and the renovation of four existing out buildings began in 2015 and was completed this last December,” said Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes. “Cariboo Fire Centre is one of the busiest centres in the province, covering about 10.3 million hectares. This new centre incorporates state-of-the art equipment.”
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said during her eight years in government she has witnessed the dedication and hard work of the Cariboo Fire Centre staff.
“When we had the big fires in 2010, I came up here and I couldn’t believe the amount of staff that were here working on fires out in the Chilcotin. This was their base,” Barnett said.
“There were no mistakes, they knew exactly where every fire was and it was amazing.”
Barnett praised Lauren Brothers Construction and said 95 per cent of the work was done by local contractors.
“”What a great thing to have such a great facility that’s a showcase when people come to the airport.”
Fire centre manager Krista Dunleavey thanked the building designers and contractors.
“It’s going to be considered a plum assignment to come and work in the Cariboo,” Dunleavey said later as she led a tour of the site with the MLAs.
Senior protection officer aviation Darren Wilkinson said the season is just getting started and there have already been reports of people burning grass in ditches along Highway 20 toward Anaham flats.
“We are having to respond so we are getting our operations up and running,” he said. “Often the public may not realize that we do rely heavily on the public to report fires to us. We appreciate all of the calls that we get.”
Wilkinson said logistics, planning and operations have to talk continuously and that will be easier to do with the new centre.
“Before I would have to walk about a minute to get to one location, and another minute to get to another location,” he said.
Senior protection officer of aviation Robert Bardosy works alongside Wilkinson and helps with aviation resources.
“If he needs planes, helicopters or slinging gear that’s where I come in,” Bardosy said.
Forest protection assistant George Wark pointed to photographs displayed in the hallway of various crews that have worked at the fire centre.
“The photos represent the heritage of our crews over the years. Initial attack CIFAC crew started in 1976,” Wark said.
He showed Barnett and Oakes the large washrooms and locker rooms, a laundry room, gym, and a multipurpose space with computers where firefighters can write reports and download photos.
The Williams Lake facility is home to the Cariboo Fire Centre office, the Cariboo-Chilcotin Fire Zone office, the Regional Wildfire Co-ordination Centre, an air tanker base, 12 three-person initial attack crews, a 20-person sustained action unit crew and aircraft personnel.
There is a core staff of 165 people during the fire season.