Every Tuesday, roughly 15 to 20 volunteers from Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi ‘it First Nation and neighbouring Grasmere gather to practice skills they hope they never have to use. The goal is to build a solid fire service that can defend the area from wildfire—boosted by the recent purchase of much-needed firefighting gear and equipment, supported by Columbia Basin Trust.
Located in grasslands at the base of forested mountains, “We are in the thick of it, so to speak,” says Nasu?kin Heidi Gravelle. Summers are hot, dry and windy. If a fire cut off the highway, “We have no way of getting out,” and fire crews couldn’t easily get in. “The potential risk for devastation is huge because of our location.”
To mitigate this situation, in spring 2022 Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi ‘it hired Wildfire Response Coordinator Brett Uphill. Since then, Uphill has been building and strengthening the volunteer team, including making sure that its members have the necessary certifications. About 25 people have signed up—an impressive number for a small location. “I’m quite pleased with that,” he says. His position, plus some of the team training, has been supported by the Trust.
The latest step has been to purchase the gear and equipment the firefighters require, from jackets and helmets to a portable wildfire tank and hoses. This was done through a Trust program that helps small and First Nations communities in the Columbia Basin plan and prepare for wildfires. This could mean buying equipment, offering training courses or doing essential planning, such as creating evacuation plans. By reducing the risk of wildfire, communities protect their well-being and become more climate resilient.
So far, “We’ve done a little bit of FireSmart burning around the community,” Uphill says, referring to doing small prescribed burns to reduce the amount of potential wildfire fuel. The brigade is also partnering with the BC Wildfire Service, so members could potentially get experience by tackling fires outside the immediate area, too.
Gravelle appreciates that Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi ‘it obtained Trust support to build its resources before a disaster strikes. “It usually is the case that something of devastation has to happen where people start saying, ‘Okay, this is a need,’” she says. “To have that comfort—knowing we have the updated, proper equipment to protect people—is huge.”