Chasing Smoke: OP LENTUS 18-05

By: Lt Joshua Horlings, 2nd Tp Ldr, B Sqn

On 26 August 2018, the LdSH(RC) Immediate Response Unit (IRU)Vanguard Company (Coy) along with supporting HQ elements departed for Vernon to engage a familiar enemy, the wildfires raging across British Columbia. Moving in as a Relief in Place (RiP) for elements from 3VP, the HQ element quickly established itself in Vernon while the Vanguard pushed to Merritt. From Merritt, the soldiers of I-21 (B Coy, 1VP), T-22 (B Sqn, LdSH(RC), and I-23 (B Coy, 1VP) launched to fight fires at two different sites. T-22 focused it initial efforts on a 489 hectare fire at Gottfriedsen Mountain while I-21 and I-23 focused on a 2,432 hectare fire at Juliett Creek.

The principal task for both sites involved soldiers “blacklining” along the edge of the fire’s burnt out flanks. Essentially, soldiers combed the edge of the fire for “hot-spots” of smoldering roots and stumps that they would subsequently neutralize with teamwork, sweat, and copious amounts of water. Although a new skillset for most of the soldiers, blacklining involved a number of fundamental soldier skills and was quickly mastered. With the guidance of British Columbia Wildfire Service’s (BCWS) “redshirts” and platoon members with experience from last year’s Op LENTUS 17-04 in Riske Creek, British Columbia, all three platoons quickly became efficient at their firefighting tasks.

With the completion of Gottfriedson Mountain after a few days of work, the Coy complete turned their attention to Juliett Creek and it’s much more challenging terrain. As a more active fire than Gottfriedson Mountain, soldiers were challenged with larger hotspots and at times the opportunity to fight some flames themselves. Working on the side of steep mountains also taught soldiers important lessons on fire behaviour and the importance of proper pump management.

After 11 days on the fire-line, the Coy had a change of pace as they were assigned to establish a camp in the town of Princeton for an incoming Coy of reservists. Following the successful establishment of the camp, the LdSH(RC) Coy returned to Vernon in anticipation of any additional tasks.

With cooling temperatures and rain across B.C., the LdSH(RC) Coy and its platoons from 1VP returned back to Edmonton on 9 September 2018. Each soldier returned feeling a sense of accomplishment for assisting B.C. during one of its worst fire seasons, a little more appreciative of rain, and a lot better at melon rolling hoses than they were when they left.