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Transcript: Jake Jacobson

Fire Warden recounts the fire from its beginning to its end:

Hello my name is Jake Jacobson. I’ve lived in Salmon Arm since 1968. I’ve been a Fire Warden with the Ministry of Forests since 1986 and I am also a lieutenant with the Salmon Arm Fire Department.

July 29, 1998 I was on my deck in Gleneden and I saw a lightning strike down in Silver Creek. Because I was a Fire Warden at the time on standby, I had my radio on and within a few minutes I heard the main office on the radio trying to get hold of one of the Fire Wardens returning from a fire, whose name was Eddy Chaykowski, but they were having trouble with communications.

Right in the Gleneden area there’s a small black hole for radio, but luckily I was able to get a hold of him on what they call a Simplex frequency, that’s radio to radio without going through the repeater and got him to head on up the Fly Hills to check out this fire report.

A few hours later I got a call from the zone office, Salmon Arm Zone, to go up and help Eddy out because some heavy equipment was showing up. The fire was showing irregular and erratic behavior. It took about 45 – 50 minutes’ drive from the valley up to the fire and at that time Eddy had already walked into the fire to check it out and it turned out that it was in what is called a box canyon, a very steep 4-sided canyon.

The fire was showing very aggressive activity even though the air tankers had done 2 or 3 drops already, the fire kept moving. The very first job I had, believe it or not, was to stop the heavy equipment from going into the fire.

Safety is always our #1 priority. It was just unsafe for the equipment to go in there or any crews to go in there because of fire activity. We just didn’t have a handle on it initially. So we have to reconnoiter the area. We have to find out how, what’s happened with the fire, we have to have escape routes, safe areas to go to before we can send crews in. So like I said, my first job was to keep my foot on the tracks of the bulldozers and the backhoes that showed up.

Jake smiled. It was a very interesting job. The, ah, the heavy equipment operators were very anxious to get in there and do something but we just couldn’t let them go in.

Again safety was our #1 priority. By early evening it was getting dark and we still hadn’t had access to the fire. We decided we just had to wait until the morning. It is really difficult to fight fires at night especially in a situation like that where we don’t have a good roads and a very aggressive fire.

I contacted the zone office and told them I was a bit concerned about the fire activity and the fact that it was right in the middle of Silver Creek and a good chance that the evening winds would push it down into the valley. So I requested the ability to stay in Silver Creek overnight and keep an eye on the fire. They said yes, do that.

So I drove down the valley and just over south of the Silver Creek bridge, I found a good spot where I could see the fire and there I sat for the evening and I applied the rule of thumb. I put my thumb up like that and the top of the fire was at the top of my thumb and said if the fire gets to the middle of my thumb, I am calling for an evacuation.

Now the evacuation had already been lined up with the zone office, they had everything in place if we had to call an evacuation. So about every hour or so I would put my thumb up and say the fire is still OK, no need for an evacuation. Very little progress downhill, luckily we didn’t have downhill winds that night.

The next morning everyone was showing up, we had all kinds of crews and equipment and we were able to aggressively fight the fire.

Skipping through the main fire, three months later, we get to October. Late September the fire was pretty well out. We were just in patrol phase and I had been given the responsibility as the Incident Commander. No big deal.

I had like two crews that were just patrolling, driving back and forth, checking to see if there were any smokes showing up.

Well October 6th mid-afternoon, we did see a smoke on the west side of the valley. We went to check it out and it was a huge, yellow pine tree that had been burning inside for who knows how long. It had finally broken off the top and it was burning like a candle.

When we got there we didn’t even have pumps with us. We were just on patrol, we did not expect to find any fire.

Eddy Chaykowski, who was one of the original Fire Wardens that went into the fire, also was a certified dangerous snag faller, who was one of the patrol crews.

So I called Eddy over and I said, “Eddy it’s an ugly tree. It’s about 1.5 metres in diameter, the base is burnt out, the top has already fallen off. It’s on a steep slope right near a ridge; on the other side of the ridge is a creek.”

I said, “Eddy can you drop that tree so that it lands upslope near the creek?”

And, of course, Eddy with great confidence said, “Of course.”

And he did! He dropped it exactly where we wanted it.

It was down and I said, “Eddy can you now buck that tree up in small bite sized pieces?”

Which he did and I sent two crew members down the creek. The rest of us rolled these bolts up the hill, over the ridge, and down into the creek and when we got them all down in the creek, we all went down there and had a good splash in party, we extinguished a fire that was burning inside these bolts of the tree, rolled the bolts out, cleaned the area up, and went home …

Jake smiles as he adds: And that folks was the end of the ’98 Silver Creek Fire!

Video credit:
Deborah Chapman, Salmon Arm Museum, c. 2016