Sun Peaks resident, NASCAR racer, and heavy equipment owner / operator, Jason White was coming off a stressful morning when he found out about the Embleton Mountain wildfire.
He’d crashed while driving a race car at Area 27, a motorsports park in Oliver, B.C. and was on the beach relaxing “with his toes in the sand” when he got the news on Saturday, July 10.
“I destroyed a race car at 10 in the morning and then at 10:30 [at night] I was getting phone calls that Whitecroft was on fire,” said White, who then jumped into action.
Having worked with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) since 2003 as a heavy equipment operator and contractor, he knew he wanted to be home for the fight, so he and his wife quickly left and headed back to Sun Peaks.
Over the course of the Embleton Mountain wildfire—which is now in its final stages, as it has been contained by BCWS crews—White played a pivotal role organizing and directing the heavy equipment that was used to build fire guards around the perimeter of the blaze.
A longtime area resident, the BCWS tasked him with liaising with residents about what was going on and also helping oversee the heavy equipment used to build the guards.
White and his work partner were some of the first people on the fire, playing a support role for BCWS’s Structual Protection Unit, which began setting up infrastructure to protect people’s homes on July 11.
“My protege, Corey Donald and I were the first ones basically heading towards the fire with a water tender, filling up bladders for the Structural Protection Unit, because the structural protection started right away,” he said. Donald is a long-time employee in White’s local business, Powder Ventures Excavating.
“As soon as structural protection was set up, we were driving right into the fire.”
What followed was a series of long and undoubtedly stressful days, as White, BCWS personnel and contracted fire crews raced to build the control lines (better known as fire break) that were used to contain the blaze.
During the fight, White found himself working closely alongside the famed Lytton Rattlers Initial Attack Team fire crew.
White said he was in awe of the crew’s determination and work ethic, having recently undergone the unspeakable tumult of seeing their own community burn to the ground.
(A GoFundMe campaign for the team has been set up and can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-the-lytton-rattlers-fire-crew.)
“Five of those guys had lost their houses two weeks before and here they are coming for 17-hour shift,” said White. “They came in, and not one of them complained, there was not one sour face, there was not one of them who didn’t want to be here. They just got to work.”
Like many involved in the fight, Monday, July 19 seems to be seared into White’s memory as an especially trying time.
That’s when the fire, spurred on by strong winds, ended up breaching the southern fire break and threatening homes located along Heffley Louis Creek Rd.
BCWS crews responded, and a group of locals—now affectionately known as the Stoneyview Fire Brigade—also worked on the fire, putting out a pile burn that sat around 80 metres north of Clark Hooton’s home.
White said everyone was expecting the winds to materialize earlier in the day and he was surprised to see things pick up during the night.
“Most of us went home at 6 or 7 p.m., and then we all got called back out at 7:30 p.m, and it was like, ‘Everybody get back here as soon as possible.’”
Hooton said that night was about as “intense” as he’s ever seen a wildfire, save for the devastating Barriere wildfire of 2003.
White said he was floored with the resolve and dedication of everyone involved in the battle to contain the Embleton Mountain Wildfire, whether it was the professional firefighters with BCWS, all of the volunteer firefighters, and residents who leant a hand when it was most needed.
“Everybody pitched in. Everybody did well. And to be quite honest with you, that’s why I live in Sun Peaks, and that’s why I’m never leaving—everybody comes together in times of need. “