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B.C. community of Kleena Kleene mobilizes to fight wildfire

Communities in the Tatla Lake area have helped build fire guards using bulldozers, and watered homes and ranches with trucks in Kleena Kleene, a small village of about 20 people.

Daryl Visscher/Photo

Residents were forced to use their own bulldozers, trucks, pumps and even a helicopter to fight off a wildfire in the small community of Kleena Kleene, as the BC Wildfire Service struggles to combat the scores of wildfires in the province.

Neighbouring communities in the Tatla Lake area have helped build fire guards using bulldozers, and watered homes and ranches with trucks in the small village of about 20 people. For the first few days, a local White Saddle Air helicopter was the only bucket machine in the area pouring water over the fire. Because of the local efforts, the fire was kept from spreading across the main highway, said Joe Cortese, a local forest health consultant.

Flying over the community located about 200 kilometres west of Williams Lake, Mr. Cortese said it was a remarkable sight watching the community mobilize together to stop the blaze from reaching homes and leaping over the highway into other communities. The blaze itself, he said, looked difficult to control as it moved fast, engulfing tree branches in flames and producing a dense cloud of smoke.

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"It was amazing to see the effort that was going on to control a situation that otherwise would have just gotten a lot worse," Mr. Cortese said. "The losses would have been much more severe if the local people hadn't organized out on their own and dealt with the issue."

The official local response to the fire began on Tuesday, a few days after the blaze began in a remote area along the Kleena Kleene River after a tree was struck by lightning. The dry conditions and extra fuel in the forest escalated the fire's threat, Mr. Cortese said.

The local rescue team is made up of about 30 people from the communities of Tatlayoko Valley, Tatla Lake, Westbranch, Kleena Kleene and the neighbouring Tsi Del Del First Nation.

"I think for a group of people not specifically trained in firefighting, I think that it was very well organized," Mr. Cortese said. "People were even communicating through local radio systems set up by local people, I think it was a great testament to the resourcefulness of our community, it was quite well organized."

The wildfire situation in B.C. is getting more urgent as over 37,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes. Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.'s chief fire information officer, said there were more than 160 wildfires burning on Sunday, including 15 that pose a serious threat to nearby communities.

On Saturday, BC Wildfire Service firefighters started arriving to Kleena Kleene. Angela Hartwick, a local community member, said one of the firefighters was startled by the success of the local effort.

"My husband told me that they were very impressed by what they saw and that they had never seen anything like it," she said. "They said they never saw a community able to mobilize in that way and keep a fire from burning any of the homes."

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