Approximately 160 wildland firefighters had to evacuate their camp in southern British Columbia on Aug. 30 due to “persistent bear activity” in the area. Several grizzly bears wandered near and through the camp foraging on berries and other natural food sources, the B.C. Wildfire Service told Outdoor Life in an email. To avoid conflict and ensure the well-being of both the personnel and the bears, the crew relocated to the town of Lillooet, 40 miles to the southeast of Gold Bridge, where they spent the night in T’it’q’et First Nation and Lillooet facilities.
On Wednesday evening, BC Wildfire Service removed personnel from the fire camp located near Goldbridge, housing those working on the Downton Lake wildfire (K71649). This was required to ensure the safety of personnel following persistent bear activity within and around the camp pic.twitter.com/R0wXDp9zin
— BC Wildfire Service (@BCGovFireInfo) August 31, 2023
The firefighters living at the camp, many of whom are part of volunteer crews from nearby communities, were battling the Downton Lake wildfire, also known as K71649. As of Sept. 5, the fire has burned 36.26 square miles, or 23,211 acres, near the town of Gold Bridge. Downton, Gun, and Carpenter lakes are also in the area where the fire was first discovered on July 13. (Another major burn, the Casper Creek fire, has claimed 42.39 square miles of land roughly 26 miles to the southeast near Anderson Lake.)
“Fire camps are often located in remote areas to house personnel in proximity to wildfire activity, and an integral part of personnel training is learning how to keep safe during wildlife encounters, including but not limited to bears,” BCWS writes. “We always seek to minimize our impact to the natural environment, including wildlife.”
The crew returned to the area the next day to continue their work on the fire, BCWS says. They slept in the alternative accommodations until they were able to relocate the camp elsewhere.
“Consultation with local experts and conservation officers occurred to select a new location for camp with a view to minimize chances of human/wildlife interactions and keep people and animals safe,” BCWS writes. “The new camp was fully operational as of Sept. 2.”
BCWS credits the T’it’q’et First Nation, Lillooet Tribal Council, and Lillooet municipality for their support and hospitality, describing the accommodations as “warm, safe, and dry with necessary amenities.” Outpourings of appreciation popped up in the comments section on BCWS’ Facebook post detailing the evacuation.
“A huge [thank] you to the T’it’q’et First Nation, Lillooet municipality and the Lillooet Tribal Council for making us feel welcome,” one commenter who was involved in the evacuation writes. “You had coffee, food[,] showers and places for us to rest ready to go at the drop of a hat. You showed generosity and kindness that my crew and I will always remember. Thank you.”
The Downton Lake fire crews aren’t the only ones who have struggled with bear and scavenger activity while fighting the rural burns. Residents of the Shuswap region, east of Gold Bridge and Lillooet, left lots of food behind when they evacuated their homes. Power outages have allowed the food to rot, attracting bears, mountain lions, raccoons, and other wildlife, CTV News Vancouver reports. They add another risk to the already-long list that wildland firefighters deal with when manning remote fire suppression efforts.
Read Next: Trolling for Bears in British Columbia
“Downed power poles, damaged bridges, broken infrastructure, dangerous trees – wildlife is on that list as well,” Mike McCulley, a fire information officer, told CTV News. “This is one of the significant safety issues that is really challenging to deal with.”
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