The 2015 Thunderbird Unit Crew thanks the community of Port Alberni for their support during the Dog Mountain wildfire near Sproat Lake. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The 2015 Thunderbird Unit Crew thanks the community of Port Alberni for their support during the Dog Mountain wildfire near Sproat Lake. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Port Alberni Thunderbirds firefighting crew headed to BC’s Interior

Intitial attack crew remains in Alberni Valley to take on new fires

The Port Alberni Thunderbirds firefighting squad has left the Valley to combat wildfires in BC’s Interior, confirmed Coastal Fire Centre fire information officer Donna McPherson on Monday, July 10.

The 20-person unit crew, which started as an all-First Nations firefighting crew from Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations, is stationed at the Alberni Regional Airport, but can be dispatched to fight forest fires all over the province when necessary.

“Their purpose is to work on large fires, and that’s where the fires are right now,” said McPherson.

Recently, coastal fire crews have been tasked with one fire in the Nimpkish Lake area, and one east of Bella Coola, but both of these have been small in comparison to the numerous fires forcing eviction in British Columbia’s interior.

“Because the T-Birds are valuable for large fires, they needed help, and we were willing to send them,” said McPherson.

“It’s a different type of athlete,” she went on. “Port Alberni firefighters are well-respected across the province. They can work long, hard hours, that’s really where they shine.”

The firefighting squad has been replaced with an initial attack crew in Port Alberni, which is a crew of three that fits inside of a helicopter. The crew can be deployed quickly and at short notice, which makes them ideal for new, small fires.

“These crews are going after fires that have just started,” said McPherson. “We still have resources in place. We haven’t run ourselves too skinny.”

Of the 53 fires in the Coastal Fire Centre region, only four have been caused by lightning strikes. The rest have been caused by people.

“If we can get those people-caused fires down, we can really make a difference,” said McPherson. “We can help out by not starting anymore fires. I hope people are getting the message.”

If you see a wildfire, report it by calling 1-800-663-5555 or text *5555 on a cell phone.

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com