Wildfire symposium spreads through Penticton

Wildfire symposium gave firefighters real-world training

Penticton’s first wildfire symposium was a success, according to Penticton fire chief Larry Watkinson, but that didn’t mean it went off without a hitch.

“There are a lot of moving parts in a wildfire fire situation like this,” said Watkinson, noting that there are a lot of different units that have to co-ordinate. “Wildland/urban interface, we’ve got command and control elements, structure protection units sprinkling the homes, engine company operations, direct fire attack and of course, 150 firefighters to handle.”

Any glitches just made the event all the more true to life. Watkinson said the chance to train for wildfire in such a realistic context is a rare one and good experience for local fire crews and the firefighters from across the province that also attended the symposium.

“These people that came out today are going to be able to take back some tools … for them to use if a (wildfire) event like this comes into their community,” said Watkinson. “We were simulating a large wildfire, so the event was travelling through a community that had a number of homes we are identifying as defendable or non-defendable.”

This is the first time a training event of this size and scale has been done in B.C., according to Watkinson. From April 6 to 8, firefighters from 27 jurisdictions ran training exercises involving supervised burning with apparatus and aircraft in the Campbell Mountain area.

Firefighters clean up, emptying a water bladder after a training exercise. (Steve Kidd/Western News)

It wasn’t just theory. Firefighters were also doing “boots on the ground wildfire fighting” working on debris piles, grass fires, setting up sprinklers to protect homes and other events they can expect to deal with in the course of fighting large and small wildfires, integrating municipal fire departments with the B.C. Wildfire service.

The weather did end up dampening some parts of the symposium.

“The way it was the last couple of days, it was really difficult getting a good burn going,” said Watkinson.

Penticton mayor Andrew Jakubeit said the event was beneficial for all, with firefighters getting hands-on training and in both techniques and working with other departments.

”When we have a fire, a lot of times outside agencies come to help us, and when there is a fire in West Kelowna or Willowbrook or where ever else, quite often our department goes there and helps out as well,” said Jakubeit. “It’s been good to have that training and the collaboration amongst the different regions.”

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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