The deaths of three firefighters in Washington State are a reminder of how much these brave people are putting on the line, on both sides of the border. Last Wednesday, three U.S. Forest Service firefighters died after their vehicle crashed and was likely caught by flames as they battled the Okanogan complex of fires near the town of Twisp. Four other firefighters were injured including one that was taken to hospital in critical condition.
They were on the initial attack, trying to stop a fire before it could threaten nearby communities – in some cases, their hometown.
Firefighters know how dangerous their jobs can be, whether it is day-to-day operations of our local department or forestry service crews battling major wildfires. But it’s so very easy for the public to take their work for granted, and it’s stunning when such a tragedy happens. Considering the level of danger, it is amazing that relatively few are lost.
Evacuees from the Rock Creek blaze and other fires also are dealing with their personal adversity in loss of homes and livelihoods or the uncertainty of not yet knowing what has been lost. But we who aren’t directly exposed to the fires, complaining about the smoke and ash in the air, and the other inconveniences brought on by fires burning in our region and south of the border, might imagine the risk is small.
The deaths of Tom Zbyszewski, Rick Wheeler and Andrew Zajac show us how great the risk firefighters face is, and continues to be for the thousands of firefighters battling blazes in B.C. and Washington. As you read this, they are still digging in with shovels and axes in searing heat and choking smoke, struggling against so many fires it is hard to keep track.
We extend our thanks to these brave men and women who are putting their lives in front of wildfires to protect people and property from devastation and death.