Op LENTUS 17-04: We Didn’t Start the Fire

By: Lt Dan Dixon and Lt Leland “Clean Covies” Kirkham

On August 29th 2017, the Regiment deployed 89 soldiers in support of Operation LENTUS 17-04 to fight wildfires in the Cariboo Region of British Columbia (BC). This Company that left Edmonton was made up of soldiers from every Squadron within the Regiment.  What followed was a two-day road move from Edmonton to a lesser known location called Riske Creek roughly 40km southwest of Williams Lake. The plateau, surrounded by mountains on all sides, provided an excellent staging ground for our task of supporting the BC Wildfire Services (BCWS) in their efforts to fight the spread of the recent wildfires throughout the area.

Upon arrival, we quickly established ourselves within the camp as we were eager to get to start assisting the firefighters. We were only in camp one night before we were on the fire lines with hand-tools fighting fires. Each morning Platoon leadership would link-up with a BCWS representative known as a “Red Shirt” to receive their daily tasks. The initial firefighting saw each Platoon travel up to three hours from Riske Creek to reach their assigned locations. In the areas where our Platoons were operating, the fire had rolled through and the damage was evident. The majority of tasks each Platoon were given consisted of “Mop-Up” and “Patrols”, which had soldiers moving through the forest utilizing hand-tools to both dig out and beat down fires. Work began in the early morning, and often saw soldiers not returning to camp until late in the evening after patrolling upwards of ten kilometers through wood-lines each day. The days on the fire-line were very long and consisted of physically demanding work, but were ultimately very satisfying.

While the IRU Company was conducting firefighting operations, the Regiment had also sent the IRU Recce Patrol to assist local authorities and civilians affected by the fires. The patrol worked all throughout the Cariboo Region, even reaching as far south as 70 Mile House. They provided presence patrols and conducted Observation Report Posts to ensure Canadians were aware of, and guided away from, the wildfire threat.

When not on the fire-line, everyone lived rather comfortably in the Riske Creek Camp. There, a pan-CAF group of supporters provided us with critical support and ensured we were able to continue our firefighting operations with all of our medical, maintenance, and transportation needs fulfilled. The kitchen staff, led by the camp KO Sgt Gerald Francis, deserve special recognition as they continually served excellent food, and even provided ice cream to keep morale high. All the support that we received was further magnified by the fact that they were enabling a 300 person camp, with 8 platoons of LdSH(RC), 38, 39, and 41 CBG wildfire fighters, all under the watchful eye of Camp SM MWO Ken Shiells.

Ultimately, every soldier would agree that the work was difficult but worthwhile. Many of the soldiers were thanked by members of the community in the surrounding area for their hard work. As this was the first Domestic Operation for many of the soldiers involved, the impact that their efforts had on the community was clearly evident and provided an extremely rewarding experience for all.