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'It's heavy' B.C. wildfire crews working through grief this season

The BC Wildfire Service has lost two members this fire season.
The Eagle Bluff wildfire looms over Osoyoos on Saturday night.

It’s been a “heavy” year for the BC Wildfire Service as the organization works through grief after the death of another frontline firefighter last week in B.C.

Zak Muise, 25, was an employee of Summerland-based Big Cat Wildfire and was working as a contractor for BCWS when he died Friday in a UTV crash at the Donnie Creek wildfire near Fort St. John.

His death follows the loss of Devyn Gale, 19, who died on July 13 while combating a wildfire near her hometown of Revelstoke.

“There is a lot of grief, within the organization and beyond,” said Cliff Chapman, BCWS director of wildfire operations, at a provincial news conference Wednesday.

“The loss of life is obviously tragic, and something that we haven't experienced a great deal in B.C. over the past decade or two, and it's not something that we want to experience moving forward.”

Chapman said he started with BCWS 21 years ago as a 17-year-old firefighter.

“I have never felt the heaviness that we are feeling this season with the tragic loss of two individuals in B.C. on fires — we certainly appreciate the condolences and the support from the public,” he said.

“The truth is, it's heavy, and our people are continuing to show up every day,” he said, adding BCWS has over the past several years poured resources into a holistic health approach for staff to keep them mentally and physically healthy and supported.

“It's not easy work, these people are leaving their families, they're leaving their livelihoods to go and support the community's efforts in the fire fight in B.C. right now."

There are currently 361 wildfires burning across B.C., 13 of those are fires of note; 1.5 million hectares of forest has burned this season, the largest figure ever recorded.

The southern part of B.C. is just entering the traditional peak of wildfire season and the bush is incredibly dry, as illustrated by the terrifying run the Eagle Bluff wildfire took Saturday night over the border near Osoyoos.

Chapman said the fire was burning at such intensity, “we can't put humans in front of that fire… it’s extremely dangerous and it is running. It is moving so fast.”

There are now 800 international firefighters, 200 Canadian Forces members and 1,500 contractors supporting over 2,000 BCWS staff in wildfire fight provincially.

Two other firefighters have lost their lives battling wildfires in Canada this season. Adam Yeadon, 25, died while fighting a wildfire near his home in Fort Liard, N.W.T. Ryan Gould of Whitecourt, Alta. died in a helicopter crash in that province.