By Steve Hubrecht

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The three large wildfires in the Columbia Valley are still burning, but they have been contained as much as possible over the past month by wildland firefighting crews. 

In a gesture of gratitude and appreciation, the community of Fairmont Hot Springs spent three weeks feeding the firefighters who were shuttling into and out of the Fairmont Airport in helicopters.

“As a community, people just wanted to help out,” Fairmont resident Lynda Devenish told the Pioneer. “We just saw the helicopters and fuel trucks coming and going all day. There were 12 to 15 helicopters, each with a crew of five or six firefighters and they were busy all the time. So people started taking cakes or drinks or something to the airport.”

Devenish is president of the Fairmont and District Lions Club and a member of the Mountainside Ladies Golf Club. She has plenty of contacts through the Fairmont community, and, after being approached by airport volunteer AnnMarie Jackson Deagnon, she put those contacts to good use in making the effort to feed the firefighters a bit more coordinated.

“We just made it a bit more organized, rather than having everybody doing their own thing. Without that, you might have too much food for them to eat one day, then not enough the next,” said Devenish, adding that once the initiative got going, it ran fairly smoothly, with 35 people combining to donate snacks for morning coffee break, bagged lunches, and dinner in the evenings.

Fairmont residents, Fairmont restaurants, the Fairmont and District Lions Club, Mountainside and Riverside Golf Clubs, the Fairmont Community Association, other Fairmont businesses, the Columbia Valley Airport Society and even some Radium Hot Springs residents all contributed to the effort, which began on Aug. 1 and ran until most of the helicopter crews departed for the Okanagan and Lillooet regions on Aug. 21. 

“They (the firefighters) are at work at 8:30 a.m. and they’re not done until 9 p.m. at night. So where do they go to eat? We’re a small town, we don’t have many restaurants, and the restaurants we do have usually aren’t open that late,” said Devenish. “We have three big fires around us, and these firefighters helped bring them under control. It was our way of saying ‘thank you’.”

As things slowed down at Fairmont Hot Springs Airport, the Columbia Valley Airport Society held a barbecue for the remaining helicopter crews. “One of the remaining pilots got up and said ‘we’ve never been treated like this’. He sounded very emotional. It was nice. I’m glad they know how much we appreciate them,” said Devenish.

Last week, on Tuesday, Aug. 22, Panorama Mountain Resort hosted an appreciation event for the ground crew firefighters working on the Horsethief Creek wildfire, a group from B.C. Wildfire Service, the Panorama Volunteer Fire Department, and 40 members of the Serpiente Amarilla (Yellow Snake) — a crew of forest fire experts from Mexico working on the Horsethief Complex fires.

Panorama media and customer relationship manager Clarissa Amaro explained that the firefighters were welcomed to the resort by a large group of homeowners, locals and staff who assembled outside the Great Hall. Panorama president and chief executive officer Steve Paccagnan gave a speech thanking the crews for their hard work before a barbecue lunch.

“Despite the rain, members of Serpiente Amarilla (then) headed up the Mile 1 chairlift for a quick sightseeing ride,” said Amaro.

Volunteers at Fairmont Hot Springs Airport made sure that firefighters were well nourished during the firefight.
(Photo submitted)