by Dave Preston
Simply by the absence of smoke in Peachland these days, one might assume the Trepanier Fire is out. The assumption would be wrong.
Nine days after the fire began, nine Rutland Senior Secondary (RSS) students joined forestry firefighters to seek hot hot spots and snuff them out.
Early every morning since the fire started on September 9, a helicopter has hovered over the fire area looking for hotspots. The helicopter is equipped with an infrared camera and a GPS system so that each spot can be recorded, according to Dale Bojahra, Trepanier Fire incident commander from the Wildfire Management Branch.
In addition to taking GPS coordinates, the helicopter will try and hover right over a hot spot and a metal spike with a piece of flagging attached will be dropped out of the helicopter. Later, when forestry firefighters go looking for the hot spot, they’ll have not only coordinates but a visual marker as well.
The RSS students are spending several days this week learning alongside experienced firefighters. On Tuesday the group was working off the end of Star Place, which found itself in the middle of the Trepanier Fire inferno.
While bucketing helicopters and aerial tankers are the most visual aspect of fighting forest fires, it is the slow, painstaking and far from glamorous work of firefighters on the ground that ultimately makes sure a fire is out.
From 15 to 20 students take the RSS forestry program each year, according to teacher Wayne Price. The Penticton Fire Zone has always supported the program, and while Price said there are many different elements to the year long set of classes, this week provided a chance for students to hone their firefighting skills.
“It provides our students a practical oppotunity to apply some of the training they’ve had,” said Price.
Bojahra said technology infrared cameras and GPS are great but no technology is 100 per cent accurate and nothing beats experienced forestry firefighters sniffing around looking for hotspots.
Firefighters are trained to use their eyes and noses, according to Bojahra. “There’s a slight smell of smoke, everyone stops and looks around.”
There hasn’t been much in the way of smoke rising from the Trepanier Fire for days but Bojahra said, “There’s still heat out there.”
“We made some really good progress this week,” said Bojahra. “I would anticipate we’ll be out here for a number of days.