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Volunteer team of B.C. veterans using chainsaws to prevent wildfires

From wildfire recovery in Lytton to flood cleanup in the Fraser Valley, this team hopes people will consider mitigation before disaster hits.

A team of volunteers from all over B.C. is dedicating their time to protect communities from wildfires.

Dubbed Team Rubicon, the group is made up of veterans and retired first responders.

“We're hoping that as we continue to build depth in this program, we'll be able to offer our services to more communities and property owners as we continue down this pathway of mitigation,” says Jeff Becker, national training manager for Team Rubicon Canada.

The "skilled civilian disaster technologists" offer their services at no cost to homeowners and are engaging with communities with a proactive response before the disaster strikes. 

“Two-thirds of the volunteers are from the Lower Mainland or the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. We have a couple of volunteers who have travelled out from Alberta, and actually a couple of who have come up from Seattle as well,” Becker says. 

Their new fire mitigation program hopes to support communities at risk from wildfire. They have just started their first mission in Ashcroft at Honour Ranch. For the last two fire seasons, there have been wildfires of note surrounding the ranch. Honour Ranch provides lodging and a retreat-like environment for people who serve in uniform. Programs centre around the person's well-being and dealing with operational stress injuries like anxiety, depression and PTSD. 

“Really what we're trying to do is reduce or remove the fuel sources, whether it be surface fuels, ladder fuels... pruning trees up to about two meters above the ground,” he says. 

For this project, 17 volunteers will spend a week focusing on the areas most at threat of being damaged by a wildfire. 

“We're looking at an area that's roughly 500 metres by 200 metres in a ravine and probably looking at about 30 to 40 full dump truck loads of vegetative debris processed or removed by the time the project's done,” says Becker.

They can process the debris into firewood or stack it in a way for a controlled burn. Most of the area they will be working in has tree debris. 

“Anyway that we can contribute to structures not being lost or increasing the resiliency at a site, that's something that we are really passionate about,” says Becker.

Creating change with chainsaws

Volunteers are trained to become ’sawyers’ and will use chainsaws to help with fire mitigation. 

“We have a volunteer training course where volunteers can become an assistant chainsaw operators,” he says. 

Becker explains how these chainsaw operators will use their skills in the field to remove the fuel source. 

“It's manual labour, as well as skilled labour with tools, chainsaws, and then knowledge of how to make sure that the debris that we sort of segment, we do it in a way where it's not going to cause a property owner any difficulty with it being removed,” says Becker. 

At Honour Ranch, they'll be focusing on cabins above a ravine. 

“That increases the risk of potential wildfire behaviour so it's an area of focus that was identified in that wildfire structure protection plan,” he says. 

From wildfires to flooding, this team has helped

When a wildfire destroyed the Village of Lytton in June 2021, Team Rubicon jumped in to assist. 

Becker explains how when disaster hit, they were called to do heirloom recovery, also known as ash outs. 

“It’s helping recover items of value for homeowners from their properties after they've been affected by fire, if it's safe for us to do so,” says Becker.

The team was also deployed when atmospheric rivers caused havoc and flooding for the Fraser Valley, Princeton and Merritt.

"We [did] expedient home repairs, which is basically preparing a home for professional repair and helping people take the first step towards that recovery.”

During that mission, they removed all of the flood-affected material and cleaned up the ‘muck’ on the property. 

“We tried to really conduct that with a level of empathy and care where we can contribute to their overall well-being,” he says.