These spine-tingling accounts of nature's awesome destructive powers take readers behind the fire lines of BC's most fabled blazes. Keith Keller vividly chronicles the advent of firefighting innovations from bulldozers to airborne Rapattack crews - and nature's persistent indifference to that arsenal.
Wildfire Wars also reveals how firefighting brings out the best and worst in the rough-and-ready lot who tackle this job. Keller tells of political infighting and clashing egos among Forest Ministry brass, and of booze, drugs and arson on the fireline. But he also finds heroes at every link in the chain of command, from fire bosses who must make quick life-and-death decisions on little more than instinct to ordinary firefighters who risk their lives to save lumber, livestock and each other. Some are larger-than-life characters, such as Percy Minnabarriett, a Native crew foreman and rodeo rider in the Ashcroft fire district whose leg was crushed by a bulldozer.
"They'd managed to keep him in hospital at Kamloops for a year or so, but after he got out he repeatedly frustrated his doctor by cutting his hip-length cast to below the knee so he could get back to riding horses. Finally the doctor sealed him in steel rods, but they only lasted until Minnabarriet had [his wife] Marie pick him up a new blade for his hacksaw."
About the author
Keith Keller was born in Vancouver and grew up in the Fraser Valley. He has been a reporter and a teacher, and spent four summer commercial cod fishing from a one-family island off the Labrador coast. He is the author of the BC bestseller Dangerous Waters: Wrecks and Rescues Off the BC Coast, which was shortlisted for the Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award for best BC book of the year. He lives on Denman Island with his wife and two daughters.
Excerpt: Wildfire Wars: Frontline Stories of BC's Worst Forest Fires (by (author) Keith Keller)
* During the Depression, some jobless men were eager to fight fires for a mere 25 cents an hour, while others were pressed into service by forest officers. In 1931 crews from federal relief camps spent weeks in the sweltering Okanagan fighting the McKinney fire -- only to be told the government couldn't afford to pay them at all.
* The Bloedel fire of 1938, near Campbell River scorched 30,000 hectares of Vancouver Island. Two destroyers from the Esquimalt naval base sailed to Campbell River, then Comox, to prepare for possible evacuation by sea.
One crew of firefighters escaped the Bloedel blaze huddled on a flatcar under a wetted canvas. "The flatcar caught fire several times, as did one man's coat, but they walked into the company office, remarked that 'it was pretty hot up there' and asked for their next assignment."
* In 1958 the only airplanes fighting fires were cropdusters, whose meagre payloads could evaporate before they hit the ground. MacMillan Bloedel pilot Dan McIvor learned that the U.S. navy had sold its four remaining Martin Mars flying boats for scrap -- and the modern water-bomber was born.
* In May, 1983 a pair of young Swiss campers were smoking trout on the shore of Widen Lake, near Houston, when their makeshift smokehouse caught fire. The resulting blaze would cover 18,000 hectares, destroying more than one million cubic metres of lumber and six homes in the ranching community of Buck Flats.
* The 1998 Silver Creek fire drove 7,000 people from their homes in Salmon Arm - the largest peacetime evacuation in the province's history.