Emergency response firm owner shares his side of B.C. wildfire decision

Jeff Kelly says he did not agree with BC Wildfire Service’s move not to use his crew in Burns Lake

People from the Southside area of Burns Lake and others living near the Babine Fire Complex were hopeful last week when 29 tractor trailers, 54 staff and $20 million worth of equipment from an emergency management company arrived to help suppress the raging wildfires.

But three days after getting there, the owner of Safeguard, Jeff Kelly, says the company was told to go home, much to the outrage of residents who set up a blockade last weekend to stop the trucks from leaving.

“It was heartbreaking for us to drive past … knowing we had over $20 million worth of firefighting gear and equipment and the ability to do a lot of good,” Kelly said.

“I am sorry we couldn’t cross the ferry and help out your family members. A lot of my staff have been calling me saying they are heartbroken too, having to drive past the women and children knowing full well that a lot of their homes were threatened and we couldn’t do a lot of good.”

Pete Laing, the incident commander for the Babine Complex, had told residents that BC Wildfire Service officials and Kelly had worked to determine where to place his 10-kilometre high-powered sprinkler system to use water from local waterways to help douse the fires.

In a video posted to YouTube on Aug. 25, Laing said the only places Kelly deemed appropriate, based on the lack of supply, the environmental impact, how dense the population was, and other factors, were Ootsa, Francois and Tetsyie lakes.

“We came to the conclusion, in collaboration with Jeff, that it wasn’t really required,” Laing said in the video. “The one site that he had just wasn’t at threat, at risk.”

On Monday, Kelly said residents were confused and angry, and he never said that his system wouldn’t work and there wasn’t enough water.

“It was a blanket statement which is absolutely false,” Kelly said in a phone interview. “It was Pete Laing … who made the comment that there was not enough water and that the systems wouldn’t work – not myself or Safeguard.”

Kelly said he was only shown two ponds – three feet deep and 50 to 75 feet across – and said those didn’t have enough water for his equipment. He said he found three other options, but was told “the two ponds were the only deployments they wanted to look at at this time.”

“There are many, many appropriate systems that we could have used to help the residents of Southside and beyond. It’s the lakes district, there is a lot of water,” he said.

Kelly also said factors such as environmental assessments were not applicable, saying his system would not have caused one of the lakes to “drop a foot” in water level, as Laing had said.

“It seems BC Wildfire set us up to go home. Asking us to assess two small ponds and asking us to deploy right on the edge of the fire are both very impractical deployment options that would be quite obvious to someone both with or without fire experience.”

In response to questions regarding Kelly’s comments, Erin Catherall, fire information officer for the Babine Complex, said BC Wildfire had wanted to set up the sprinkler system in the area of Keefe’s Landing and Beaver Lake given the immediate wildfire risk at the time.

“BC Wildfire Service deferred to the contractors’ knowledge of his equipment to see if it was feasible for this system to be set up in this particular area,” she said.

“The owner of Safeguard said he was not able to utilize the water source that BCWS had identified that was adjacent to a paved road. There were no alternative water source options identified for this area.”

She added officials are evaluating the use of alternate water delivery systems that would better meet the area’s needs.

Safeguard is home now and does not have another deployment option with BC Wildfire Service. The main office is in Fort St. John, but the company is scattered across western Canada, so all the equipment has gone back to its various locations.

When asked if they would work with BC Wildfire again, said Kelly: “We’re proud of everything we have done this summer. I can only assume what BC Wildfire’s motivation was. What Safeguard could have contributed, was a mass water curtain to help protect a lot of those homes in the various areas.”

Just Posted

What’s happening for Family Day in the Boundary

Activities in and around Grand Forks offer something for everyone.

Petition on Second Street project presented to council

Over 1,000 signatures were gathered, but staff say council can’t do much about the project.

Have an escape plan, meeting place in event of fire

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue offers tips to keep your family prepared.

Biologists discover another female calf in depleted South Purcell Mountain Caribou herd

Calf will be moved to Revelstoke maternity pens, then released

Man seriously hurt after police shooting near Nelson

Incident has been reported to provincial police watchdog

Fashion Fridays: Up your beauty game

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Police track armed kidnapping across Thompson-Okanagan

RCMP allege it was a targeted crime believed to be linked to the drug trade

St. Paul’s Hospital replacement slated to open in Vancouver in 2026

Announced many times, but this time there’s money, Adrian Dix says

Fourteen ‘dream’ homes ordered evacuated as sinkholes open in Sechelt

Sinkholes throughout the subdivision have prompted the District of Sechelt to issue evacuation orders

Olympian Rhoda Wurtele visits Fernie; reveals secret to skiing at 97

Rhoda Wurtele and her identical twin sister Rhona represented Canada at the 1948 Olympics

Third measles case in Vancouver prompts letter to parents

Measles is highly contagious and spreads easily through the air

January home sales were weakest since 2015, average national price falls: CREA

CREA says the national average price for all types of residential properties sold in January was $455,000

B.C. man known as ‘Papa Jimmy’ dies making daily trek to his wife

Maple Ridge 85-year-old made visits to New West for 12 years

Wilson-Raybould’s cabinet move due to departure from team: Trudeau

Jody Wilson-Raybould suddenly quit the cabinet this week, but Trudeau isn’t saying

Most Read