First Nation calls all-Indigenous crew a model of future local wildfire response

·2 min read
An all-Indigenous Simpcw First Nation wildfire attack crew at work in the North Thompson region near Kamloops, B.C., in August.  (Melanie Stutt  - image credit)
An all-Indigenous Simpcw First Nation wildfire attack crew at work in the North Thompson region near Kamloops, B.C., in August. (Melanie Stutt - image credit)

North Thompson First Nations say a new all-Indigenous initial attack crew should be a model for local wildfire response.

"We just couldn't sit idle while the Simpcw territory ... burned, or was threatening to be burned," Simpcw Chief Shelly Loring told CBC's Daybreak Kamloops host Shelly Joyce.

"We are not waiting for anybody."

The southern Interior community raised concerns about provincial wildfire response as far back as 2003, but the devastating 2017 fire season sparked action.

Ron Lampreau Jr., Chu Chua Volunteer Fire Department fire chief, says as blazes burned north of Kamloops that season, the B.C. Wildfire Service didn't make some fires burning in and around Simpcw territory a priority target.

He argues the BCWS response and threat assessment lacked local and Indigenous knowledge about the terrain and habitat.

"We identified a gap, with having the local knowledge that's really critical about fighting these fires … [we] know the back roads, [we] know our territory," Lampreau says.

Similar criticism have been raised this fire season by regional ranchers and residents.

Loring says Simpcw leadership and a dedicated group of volunteers set out to get a crew fully equipped and trained to B.C. Wildfire Service standards, and then lobbied for approval.

"[We] had a vision of an initial attack crew and it's taken a couple of years to come to fruition, but we've finally signed an agreement with the province that does see us have our own initial attack crew," she said.

"We pulled up our sleeves, we pulled out our pickaxes so to say, and now we see feet on the ground."

Melanie Stutt
Melanie Stutt

The initial attack crew, of up to five rotating members, is dispatched by the Kamloops Fire Centre of the Wildfire Service to any new blaze within 120 kilometres of Simpcw land.

The team is currently fighting the out-of-control Sparks Lake Fire which has grown to almost 900 square kilometre, the largest wildfire in the province.

Lampreau says the project is receiving interest and support from other Indigenous communities, and forestry and resource industry partners.

"Everybody wants to see this project and initiative to succeed," he says. "It's not only a benefit for Simpcw First Nations but everyone in our region."

The Simpcw hope to put as many as three crews in the field next summer.

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