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Incident Commander reporting

On July 29, 1998, a severe thunderstorm moved through the area starting many fires in the Vernon- Salmon Arm area.

Man wearing a baseball hat speaks to microphones.

Fire Boss Roy Benson meets with the media.

A patrol plane saw the lightning strike and the fire start that would become fire K30285, Silver Creek. I was stationed in Vernon and I was part of a number of organized fire management teams set up, province wide, to take action on larger, problem fires within the province. Our team was on standby which meant that in the event that there was a major fire, we would be the team that was called.

On July 30, I was checking fires in the Vernon area. The pilot that I was flying with said that he had come past a fire in Silver Creek and it was really going to be a bad one. Shortly after that I received a radio call requesting that I return to base as a request had been made for our overhead team to head to Salmon Arm. I arrived that afternoon and the rest of the team arrived either that day or early the next day. Some members of the team were from Vancouver Island, so it took a little longer for them to get there.

On Aug. 3, the fire took a major run. People in Silver Creek were put on evacuation alert on Aug. 4. On Aug. 5 a major wind event moved over the fire. We experienced very heavy wind from early afternoon to 2 a.m. Aug 6. The fire came very close to where we had established our fire camp. The winds were so strong that most of our tents were blown away along with some of our personal clothing. If your gear bag had been left open, you would find shirts and underwear a long way from the camp.

Smoke from fire billows from hills. Sky is lit with orange. Farm in centre of photo.

A major wind moved over the fire on August 5th.

Because the fire was so visible from both Silver Creek and Salmon Arm, many people had strong opinions as to how the fire was fought. We had our critics. We also had supporters. Many people brought tokens of appreciation to our camp. One night a refrigerated truck pulled up loaded with ice cream. The people who grow the corn in Salmon Arm stopped by a number of times with truckloads of corn and butter. Many others brought coffee, cakes, pies, sandwiches, and other baked goods. Some just stopped by to wish us well. We had people using their own equipment on the fire and when we tried to pay them they said no, we live here and we have to help.

I’m sure that behind the scenes there were many acts of kindness and generosity, during the fire, the evacuation, and later, post fire. In my experience, emergencies bring out the best in people.

I was the Incident Commander from July 30 until we turned the fire over to a relief overhead team on Aug. 22, 1998.

Roy Benson

Photo credit:
James Murray, Salmon Arm Observer, c. 1998