Jamie Jeffreys, director of partnerships and strategic engagement for the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), has been humbly working to simultaneously keep her neighbours, their cattle and the province safe.
Jeffreys lives on her hobby farm near Heffley Lake with her husband, their two daughters, seven horses, 11 cows, six sheep, a flock of chickens, one cat and a dog since 2012.
They moved to the community after she and her husband met at the University of British Columbia where they became registered professional foresters before seizing an opportunity to move back to the Interior for jobs in their field.
“We’ve always been interested in horses and the outdoors,” explained Jeffreys. “We like hiking and hunting and things like that so when we moved [to Kamloops] we spent a year searching for property and ended up on Heffley Louis Creek road just past Heffley Lake.”
As their family grew, so did their love for the area. Together they discovered local hiking and horseback riding trails and hunting spots. They continue to frequent Sun Peaks in the winter with their 15 and 17-year-old daughters who hold part-time jobs at the resort.
Not only has the proximity of outdoor activity made Heffley the perfect area for the Jeffreys’, but so has the 4-H club and small tight-knit community feel.
“It’s been an amazing place for our kids to grow up. There’s four or five other families in the valley that are part of our [4-H] club. We all share that sense of pride in where [we] live and the community,” Jeffreys said.
Going above and beyond
As director of partnerships and strategic engagement for BCWS, Jeffrys found herself in a unique and difficult position when the Embleton Mountain wildfire threatened her neighbours, her animals and her farm.
“I was doing my job and supporting communities that were impacted, then all of a sudden we were a local that was [being] impacted,” Jeffreys said.
Her role with BCWS began in 2018 after an action review was completed following the destructive 2017 wildfire season to specifically focus on developing community partnerships and include stakeholders in wildfire information processes, such as the community bulletins and meetings regarding the Embleton Mountain fire.
“During fire response, people who live and work in the area, they need to know what’s going on and what’s happening,” Jeffreys explained. “It’s no different than the community Zoom meetings hosted by Sun Peaks. Several years ago those kinds of things didn’t happen.”
One of her ideas was to include specific community groups and stakeholder liaisons, such as the BC Cattlemen’s Association, in BCWS incident management meetings.
The Cattlemen’s inclusion dates back to 2019, but at the time, Jeffrey’s didn’t think it would come into effect for her and her neighbours’ farms so suddenly.
“You’ve got lots of ranchers and people with cattle that are out there [grazing] in the area [where there are fires],” she explained.
During the Embleton Mountain wildfire, the liaison represented its community of Heffley Lake area ranchers and relay information such as forecasts of the fire and what the tactics are to fight it so ranchers could be informed.
“An example is some of the ranchers were cutting hay [which] they need to do, but at the same time they don’t want to conflict with any of the fire operations. It’s a chance for the ranchers and fire crews to work together.”
Too close for comfort
During the Embleton Mountain wildfire, there were cattle on the range and it was vital for everyone involved to know where the cattle were if a coordinated evacuation was needed.
Luckily, an evacuation was not necessary for those Heffley Lake area rancher’s cattle.
However, for Jeffreys’ farm animals, an evacuation was the best option when her family’s farm was put on an evacuation alert.
“When the alert first came on…it was nice to move them right away and not have to worry about them when all of a sudden we were evacuated and had to leave for a couple nights,” Jeffreys recalled.
As for everyone impacted by the recent wildfire on Embleton Mountain, Jeffreys was ready and knew a wildfire in her community was always possible but was surprised when such a potentially devastating fire unfolded so close to her community.
“I’ve worked for BC Wildfire for three years now…and we’ve had a couple of quiet seasons so this is the busiest season I’ve been a part of,” Jeffreys explained. “[I knew] There’s the chance a wildfire could happen at any moment…But, certainly I didn’t ever really imagine being in a season like this.”
Jeffreys knew she had to strike a balance between helping her home community, and the larger province-wide emergency at hand.
“At one point my husband said ‘Wow, I’m proud of you, you’re carrying on with your job and here we are looking after ourselves and the risk that’s right above us. You can’t stop supporting the rest of the province with the emergency situation we’re in, just because we’re in it ourselves.’”
One day during the Embleton wildfire, BCWS crews needed to work behind a neighbours property, and Jeffreys was able to implement her communication and community partnership skills to help comfort a neighbour whose home was threatened by the fire.
“[I told them] You’ve got to trust the plan. It was me as a neighbour supporting a neighbour, but also as somebody working for BCWS saying ‘They know what they’re doing, so go with the plan and trust what they’re telling you.’”
“It was fantastic to know the crews were able to stop each morning and say hi and tell them what they were doing behind the house and then have them come out at the end of the day and say ‘Hey, it all works the plan came together,’ it’s so nice.”
Reviewing and rebuilding for BCWS
Jeffreys will continue to work alongside all of the BCWS crews and contractors who continue to keep communities like Whitecroft and Heffley Louis Creek area safe.
Once the fire season is done, they will review the systems in place and be able to see how BCWS’s new communication tools (such as the mobile app and improved website) helped, to plan for similar, or worse, fire seasons ahead.
“We know with climate change, the fuel conditions and the forest conditions that are out there, we’re going to experience more seasons like this,” said Jeffreys.
Looking forward, Jeffreys said the organization and its contractors will be thinking about what else can be done in terms of prevention and risk mitigation for communities.
“I really want to acknowledge the efforts of everybody that’s out there and all the people that we are working with beyond just our organization. We bring people from out of province and country and work with industry people in the province and all kinds of groups. There’s lots of appreciation and recognition for what they’re doing.”