First Nations firefighters return to Yukon after battling blazes in B.C.

‘Being able to help out, it really felt good,’ says firefighter Tyrell Genier

A deployment of Yukon First Nations firefighters has returned to the territory after assisting British Columbia with its ongoing wildfire response.

On Aug. 16 the Yukon government sent 40 woodland firefighters and four supervisory staff to Kamloops, B.C., for a 19-day deployment. The crew returned to the territory on Sept. 2.

Most of the deployment were members of Yukon First Nations Wildfire (YFNW), which is a contract wildfire fighting service, training provider, and wildfire fuel mitigation specialist.

“When we arrived it was just an unreal experience,” says Tyrell Genier who is a YFNW firefighter and member of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation.

“It was my first deployment out of the Yukon, so just that itself makes it pretty exciting for me, and knowing that there was so many fires there and being able to help out, it really felt good.”

Genier says after arriving in B.C. he was deployed to west Kelowna to help battle the Mount Law fire which began on Aug. 15. It’s classified as an out-of-control fire.

According to the BC Wildfire Dashboard, that fire has an estimated size of 976 hectares.

News releases for Central Okanagan Emergency Operations state that at the height of the fire in mid-August evacuations were ordered for 460 properties in close proximity to the flames. A state of local emergency was also temporarily declared for the City of West Kelowna.

One structure was significantly damaged in the fire and a previously damaged outbuilding was further compromised, as well as some fencing on properties.

Genier says the fire was located close to houses, and YFNW set up structure protection as well as assisted with putting the fire out.

“I think when we arrived on the fire it was pretty much under control, but we were just helping wrap the fire and tried to put it completely out,” he says.

Genier says helping the community was rewarding.

“Being able to put some flames out felt pretty good knowing those houses were still there when we left,” he says.

The Mount Law fire is still classified as out-of-control, but is currently listed as “held,” meaning it’s not likely to spread beyond existing predetermined boundaries.

Genier says while B.C. isn’t out of the woods yet, the situation there is improving.

“It’s getting a little later in the season and getting a little colder at night,” he says.

Now back in the Yukon, Genier says he’s happy to be home.

“It felt good to sleep in my own bed again.”

B.C.’s provincial government website states drought conditions and aggressive fire behaviour contributed to this year’s extreme wildfire season.

According to the BC Wildfire Service, 1,572 wildfires have burned through 864,581 hectares since Apr. 1, 2021.

As of Aug. 28 there were 233 fires burning in B.C. and 4,100 properties are currently on evacuation orders.

Four-hundred-and-forty-three out-of-province firefighters have been deployed to B.C. to support the province in its wildfire efforts.

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