The Wildwood Volunteer Fire Department responded to 34 calls for service within a 72-hour period starting the afternoon of Friday, July 7 when the wildfire storm hit the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
Fire Chief Randy Worsley said a call first came in about a fire at the Wildwood transfer station.
He was at work so he sent a team of firefighters to check it out, but there was nothing found there.
“By the time I arrived at the hall and was standing outside I watched the lightning go down the valley toward Deep Creek and within minutes there were plumes of smoke everywhere,” Worsley recalled. “It was unbelievable.”
The first fire the department responded to was near Pacific Road in Wildwood.
“It was very close to houses, so we set up a staging area there,” Worsley said. “The fire went around us to the other end of Pacific. It was at the whim of the wind.”
Another one of the crews staged at a farm and protected a house there, he added.
“That first 72 hours was our biggest event. After that we responded to calls to go help put other fires out.”
Worsley said he tried to keep teams working at different locations because there were always new calls coming in and the crews worked steady for 14 days.
“Somewhere along the line, I released six members of our department to the BC Wildfire Service to work with their crews, on the understanding if we needed our guys we would get them back.”
There were some power outages and a food shortage, yet the department made do, Worsley said, noting members brought trailers to the hall.
“Out of 477 homes, we lost two at Mountain House, but no one was hurt,” he added.
Back in July, Worsley took the Tribune on a tour of a burned out area on the southeast side of the community.
He stopped his truck, which he said had become his command office, and pointed to a house that was looted the first weekend of the fires.
“They drove right through the fence to get away,” Worsley said, shaking his head and pointing toward the yard. “Luckily the police presence has really picked up here.”
People continue to stop by to say thanks to the department and in November, the chief hosted an appreciation banquet at the fire hall for his crew where he presented them with plaques bearing the engraving “above and beyond.”
Worsley also travelled to Prince George on Oct. 21 to present the Fire Operations Communications Centre with an appreciation plaque to thank them for their dispatch work during the fires.
“I could hear all the calls coming in and thought they did such a good job,” he said.
Many of them were newly-certified, having completed training in October 2016.
“It’s been a good team building experience,” Worsley said. “Their training came into action right away.”
At its height the Wildwood fire grew to around 13,000 hectares.
Worsley has called Wildwood home for 47 years and said it was devastating to see all the areas that caught on fire.
“I just kept telling my crew to remain positive,” he added.