By Jim Cooperman
Normally, they operate a marina and sell boats, but this summer they added a new occupation to their resumé: wildfire fighting.
The Captain’s Village Marina has been a key North Shuswap business for nearly 50 years and its owner, Dean Acton, has long been aware of the need to maintain fire-fighting equipment in case it was needed, including a dump truck with a water tank, pump and hoses.
After the 2021 wildfire season, Acton added another water truck, knowing it could be sooner rather than later that a wildfire could threaten the North Shuswap. When the Adams Lake East wildfire grew this summer, he purchased three more water tanks and converted trucks, adding pumps and hoses.
It did not take long until there was a nearby monstrous fire after the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) did their 10-kilometre-long aerial ignition at 4 p.m. on Aug. 17. At 10:30 pm that evening, Dean drove five kilometres up the 670 Scotch Creek forest service road to find the backburn had escaped and reached the creek. Consequently, he began warning others in the community that the fire was heading towards them.
On the morning of the 18th, Dean’s son Mark drove one of the water trucks up to Meadow Creek, where the fire began burning fiercely only a few hours after the backburn was ignited. He was able to douse many spot fires that threatened properties in the valley, while the fire moved east in the hills above. When he was informed the fire had emerged in the hills above the Scotch Creek community, he rushed back to take action.
After assembling some heavy equipment, including two loaders and an excavator, Mark, along with other locals, began building a fire guard in the field north of town as an attempt to prevent the fire from moving into the community. Above them was a circling BCWS helicopter that soon landed. When a BCWS “red shirt” emerged, they asked him what the current status of the fire was and what was being done to control it. The red shirt replied that their communication was down, that no control efforts were underway and that he could not help them. He then returned to his helicopter and flew away.
When someone phoned to tell them the fire had crossed the road near the bridge, they realized that building a guard would be pointless as the fire was on its way. By 5:30 p.m. the fire had reached the fields west of the marina behind Mark’s and two of neighbours’ homes. At this point in time, the firestorm was in full force, and the air movement was so strong it sounded like a Boeing 707 preparing for take-off. Trees were candling a mile away as sprinklers they set up to protect their homes shut off along with the power.
With a few hours, the North American Log Crafters business caught fire, and they were forced to retreat to the marina. Soon they returned with loaders and trucks to fight the beast, by scooping up the burning material and pushing the fire back on itself. When they had the fire contained in the log yard, they moved their equipment to the nearby farm where the fire was threatening a large hay barn. Thankfully, they were able to hold the fire back, because if the barn had caught fire, it likely would have spread to all the homes along the waterfront.
By this point, there were spot fires throughout the community, and the crew worked throughout the night and well into the following day along with other locals to put these fires out. As well, the Captain’s Village water trucks went to other neighbourhoods that day to help fight more spot fires. By noon, as more locals began to arrive, Mark and Dean had no idea who was driving the trucks, as they focused on doing the dispatch work and ensuring each truck would get refilled quickly at the marina’s boat launch. Help also came from the South Shuswap, including two eager local firefighters who arrived on Sea Doos well prepared to battle the fires with all their gear.
Everything changed on the second day after the firestorm, when the police moved in to restrict travel on the roads and block additional help from arriving, as well as the much needed supplies of food, water and fuel. Consequently, the Captain’s Village team focused on extinguishing the spot fires in their neighbourhood. Throughout the weeks that followed, they continued to protect their community without any help or collaboration with BCWS and under a constant police presence that only made their efforts more difficult and stressful.
A public meeting, Shuswap Firestorm, is taking place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 23, at the North Shuswap Community Hall. A powerpoint presentation provided as evidence for the Forest Practices Board investigation into BC Wildfire Service’s uncontrolled burn will be shared. As well, a letter to the BC Ombudsperson and other public agencies with six complaints will be presented with an opportunity for attendees to to support and sign it. The letter is available at https://www.change.org/p/shuswap-firestorm-the-last-straw.