After weeks of practice, members of the Anarchist Mountain Fire Department Monday night got their first wildfire test of the dry season.
The late-evening blaze at the foot of Anarchist Mountain proved to be a proverbial — and literal — trial by fire.
AMFD Chief Urs Grob rightfully concluded his team earned top marks.
“We are totally aware (of the fire danger),” he says of the volunteer department, almost all of its members from the community it protects. “The last three practices we worked on wildfire. We talked about the situation, about how important it is to move fast.”
His firefighters, he said, did exactly that Monday evening.
“Normally on a Monday night at 10:30, if there’s a call out, two or three members respond right away and five minutes later another 10,” he said. “This time the call came out and it looks like with the radio traffic we had, everybody was on the road and jumping in the trucks.
“About 10 minutes after the call came to our radio, we had the first members here. About 10 minutes later we had water on (the fire).
The blaze, estimated at about 10 hectares, was contained to a hay field below Hwy. 3 on the Osoyoos community’s east bench.
Despite some tricky terrain, firefighters, with the help of a BC Wildfire crew, successfully battled the fire and kept it away from any structures, residences or otherwise.
Chief Grob — and likely every member of the crew he captains — knows the call could have been a lot worse.
“We were lucky on this fire because we didn’t have significant wind,” he said.
The fire was also contained to grasslands and kept away from the stands of timber that consume Anarchist.
The entire mountain, it seems, is on pins and needles, wondering when — not if — a wildfire will threaten a community that is all but built atop the mountain in multi-acre parcels set amid the tinder-dry trees.
“With the wet spring, a lot of stuff grew and now there’s fuel,” says Chief Grob, shaking his head. “And the wind and the dry conditions just spark it up and it goes fast.”
If what’s already on the mountain isn’t enough of a concern, Anarchist also has to deal with the worst Mother Nature and a travelling public can throw at it.
The chief is worried about thunderstorms expected to arrive over the next week and the lightning those storms will bring. The community also has to deal with a highway that bisects the mountain and the occasional bit of careless traffic that highway moves.
Not surprisingly, the department is on high alert.
“Right now, even if it’s a car accident, there could be a fire,” says Chief Grob. “Everybody who is here comes out.
“We know the faster we get there, the better chance we have of quickly containing the fire.”
And then Chief Grob is looking at the sky again, at the smoke that fills the valley below. He’s had maybe three hours away from the fire scene, leaving after the blaze was under control and returning now to figure out its origin.
He’s tired, but you have to wonder how much of that is a sleepless night and how much of it is the exhaustion of looking ahead to a very hot August.
“I just hope the weather is not changing next weekend,” he finally admits. “My biggest concern is the lightning.”
It’s a heavy burden to bear. But the Chief has a community on his side and a department that is equally conscious of the dangerous conditions it may have to face.
There’s always hope it won’t come to that. Perhaps cooler weather and even rain — buckets of it — will come to the mountain. Perhaps thunderclouds will pass over without spitting an electrical charge. Perhaps not a single errant cigarette butt will fly.
But if push comes to shove, the Anarchist community can find some measure of confidence in its fire department’s performance on a hillside below it.
This past Monday evening, with searing heat in its collective face and the safety of neighbours at its back, that fire department served notice its up to the task.