Behind the fire line: B.C. firefighters stalked by cougars

A Keremeos volunteer firefighter talks about what it was like to patrol the Snowy Mountain fire

When Josh Wollman joined the Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department he never imagined he would be in a bush truck lights and sirens trying to get to BC Wildfire crew members being stalked by a cougar – but that’s what happened during one of his nights on patrol.

(Submitted)

Wollman recounted a night early last week when they got a radio call for help and a KVFD member got a new nickname “cougar bait.”

“Two of the forestry workers were walking up a cutline to check on a pump in the creek beside one of the ridges that were burning down by Chopaka. They radioed us frantically asking us to back up the forestry truck to them as fast as possible,” he said.

Wollman said the road wasn’t easy to back up on, so he decided to turn around.

“The guys got back on the radio and said, ‘stay there, turn all your lights and sirens on. We’re running to you.”

Related: Snakes rattling up trouble for wildfire crews near Keremeos

Related: ‘Hot and dirty work:’ Commander describes fighting massive Ontario wildfire

A cougar stalked the wildfire crew for awhile, pushing them down the cutline and letting out very large growls.

Once the crew was safe they still had to go out and check the pump and that’s when local member Lorne Pleasant got his new nickname.

‘They told us one of us had to come with them so we could watch the bush and look around while they checked out the pump,” he said.

Wollman offered to go, but Pleasant said, “you’re driving. You have to stay here.”

Pleasant went out, and the BC wildfire crew got the pump running without any further incident.

“As soon as he got back in the truck he said, ‘ya sure, send the old crippled guy that can’t run,’” Wollman said with a laugh. “People that were there, we call him cougar bait, it’s pretty funny.”

Wollman couldn’t praise the wildfire crews enough for their hard work fighting the raging Snowy Mountain fire burning more than 13,000 hectares in high elevation just south of Keremeos.

“Basically they are going out there with glorified garden tools. They strap them on their back with their radios. They go up at 7 p.m. and we don’t see them come down till 7 a.m.,” he said.

He’s heard from crews that they’ve run into wolf packs, cougars, rattlesnakes, and even a skunk’s den.

“That didn’t go too well for them,” he said.

(Submitted)

He was there when a large planned ignition happened near Chopaka last week.

“It was weird for me. I jokingly said for us being structure firefighters and local firefighters what you are doing is that you just lit the whole mountain on fire. It was crazy. For me, I don’t set the house, next to the house on fire, to stop it from being on fire. We all had a good laugh at that,” he said.

“But the precision they do that with is amazing. They said watch, this tree will be impacted by the fire and this one next to it won’t, and they did it.”

About 16 KVFD members have been doing patrols 24 hours a day, working with the BC Wildfire teams.

The patrols stopped Monday.

Related: Increasing temperatures challenge crews on Snowy Mountain fire

“It’s been great team building for our department,” Bosscha said. “They’ve learned a lot and have had a really great experience.”

Bosscha said some local firefighters have worked 24 hour shifts patrolling, because there wasn’t anyone to fill in. He added employers have been great.

“It’s great to see everyone working together to do this,” he said.

At the time the Review went to press the Snowy Mountain fire was 13,359 hectares in size and was listed as out of control. Work was still underway in Chopaka to stop the fire from destroying homes and out buildings while other work was being done to contain the fire a top Snowy Mountain in hopes of stopping it from coming down K-Mountain.

Related: UPDATE: Three new fires sparked in the South Okanagan- Similkameen

Check www.keremeosreview.com regularly for updates on this fire and more.

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