The Simpcw Indigenous Initial Attack (IIA) crew was the first crew of its kind, based in Chu Chua near Barriere B.C., working in partnership with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) for their inaugural season in 2021. This partnership carried into the 2022 fire season establishing a more robust relationship between Simpcw and the BCWS, focused on early detection and rapid fire crew response. The Simpcw crew typically responds to fires within a predetermined response area, measuring roughly 285,000 hectares, reaching east to the shores of Adams Lake, north to Dunn Peak, as far west as Bonaparte Lake and south to Knouff Lake.
Initial attack crews are trained to respond to initial reports of fire. They suppress the majority of all new wildfires in British Columbia. Expanding the initial attack program using personnel that are highly knowledgeable about their local area, such as the Simpcw IIA crew, is crucial to the continued initial attack success in our province.
Paul Donald, CEO for Simpcw Resources Group, explains the importance of this crew in the North Thompson region. “The territory for Simpcw First Nation is really large, and the protection that’s provided with the crews that we have is limited to the Barriere area, but our territory actually expands past Valemount and McBride, so it’s a vast territory and if we can provide protection to those areas as well, then I think it would be better for all of us. Not just the [Simpcw] First Nation, but for all the outlying communities as well.”
The Simpcw IIA crew was on standby to respond to wildfires from June 24 until October 8, 2022. For this crew, the process of being deployed to a wildfire is the same as a BC Wildfire Service initial attack crew. If a new wildfire is identified in their response area the crew is notified by the Kamloops Fire Centre and deployed to the incident.
This season, Simpcw crew members spent numerous hours responding to wildfires within their Territory. While the Simpcw IIA crews had a quiet start to the fire season, their early season training was put to the test when a lightning bust moved across the Territory, resulting in numerous lightning-caused wildfires. Some wildfires were reported and worked solely by the IIA crew through all stages, from initial attack suppression, mop up and patrolling before calling the fire extinguished. Other incidents, the crews worked alongside BCWS
initial attack and par attack crews, often for several consecutive days on the same incident before containment was achieved.
The crew’s knowledge of this surrounding geography, associated fuel types, and local weather patterns, coupled with their quick response times are keys to their success and part of the reason why this initiative is a benefit to the Simpcw First Nation, surrounding communities and the BC Wildfire Service.
Curtis Pilatzke, crew member with the Simpcw IIA crew, describes their experience in being actively involved in this community initiative and what it means to be able to respond to wildfire and protect their community. “A lot of the places we’re going to are distant relatives, neighbors and connected to our own community. [This initiative] is doing a lot to help protect here, we’re fast in response, we are continuously learning more and improving our knowledge. We’ve gotten a lot of gratitude from the owners of property we’ve been on.”
Pilatzke adds that fire protection isn’t just about suppressing wildfires, it’s about the greater values across the landscape, too. “And we do a lot to protect values, not just the timber, we’re protecting the community and economy – tourism, fisheries, wildlife, ranching, mining, all the industries.”
This indigenous initial attack capability has also been employed by community partners, such as the Wells Gray Community Forests and Thompson Rivers Natural Resource District, for various wildfire risk reduction projects in the North Thompson area. "Can’t say enough about Wells Gray Community Forests for stepping up and providing us with some ad hoc projects doing silviculture brushing,” says Glenn Foss, Forestry Manager for Simpcw Resources Group. “It kept the guys going for the bulk of the summer during standby hours.” These projects allow crew members to learn new skills and practice in a controlled environment, better equipping them for wildfire response, while also reducing wildfire risk through fuel mitigation and other activities.
Thanks for the feature BCWFS. The image used in this article if of BC Wildfire Service, Simpcw First Nation Chu Chua Volunteer Fire Department, Simpcw Resources Group Forestry Department, and IIA 2022 crew members. In memory of Sheldon.