Summer of WIldfires: Called Back from Vacation

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Summer of WIldfires: Called Back from Vacation

By: Adam Brayford
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The Canada Day long weekend seemed like the perfect time to take hiatus from my Co-op with the Forest Service in Castlegar, B.C. Owing to an unusually late spring, the wildfires which fuelled my duties as a Fire Information Officer had been few and far between.

However, the situation would soon change as my visit home came to a close. The news would come in the form of a frenzied phone call from my weekend replacement as I drove my car back across the province from Vancouver to the Kootenays. As I re-entered cell phone reception range somewhere between Osoyoos and Grand Forks, her fervent voicemail caused my blood pressure to rival that of someone three times my age: “Adam! Things have gotten crazy out here. I don’t know how close you are to getting here, but when you do, come straight to the fire centre! Don’t stop to change.”

Typical, I thought. I choose to go home the very weekend my position in the Kootenays becomes urgent. Fueled by a desire to maximize my Co-op experience, and by the urgency of my fellow Co-op student’s message, I drove as fast as my Corolla’s ferocious engine would allow, obeying all posted speed limits, naturally.

When I finally reached the fire centre, my eyes twitching slightly from nerves and a major supply of caffeine, I was struck by the swarms of activity within. The fire season had begun. Fire control officers flocked the main corridor of the office, gathering in groups around maps and coordinating response. Then I entered the Dispatch room. “Adam, thank goodness! I’m about to catch a helicopter!”

That voice which had summoned me by voicemail from my retreat in the city emerged from the swarming crowd of fire control officers, dutifully radioing fire suppression personnel, coordinating air tanker deployment and monitoring fire progress. My co-worker approached me and we walked to the airport tarmac as she gave a quick summary of the events of the weekend, which centered on a wildfire that had grown rapidly from the five hectares it had burned prior to my departure. I accompanied her to the helicopter that would take her and various personnel to the fire in question. While there, she would assist in managing on-site media and public, while I coordinated provincial media and information resources from the fire centre. We parted ways after she informed me of an early morning interview I had slated with CBC Radio, the following day.

The next morning I woke up at six am to call the CBC newsroom. The producer had me state my name and position into the phone as she checked the sounds levels, a regular practice. My head swam with the many details on the fire of note that I had gathered before sleeping, the night prior. My early morning fatigue is assuaged by the knowledge that the interview would be pre-recorded. Or so I thought.

And so, for the second time in as many days, a voice on my cell phone caused my heart to race: “Today’s top story, the 190-hectare south of Edgewood continues to burn quickly. Joining us today is Fire Information Officer Adam Brayford in Castlegar, BC.” I would be forced to wake up fairly quickly, as I was about to go live - unexpectedly - on radio as the voice of the BC Forest Service for the first time. 

Posted on March 04, 2011