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Locals use lightning tracking app, quads to snuff out wildfires post-storm near Quesnel

Department was lucky to reach the site quickly, says volunteer firefighter Ian Hicks
The McLeese Lake Fire Department is urging caution as dry conditions and a heat wave continue.(McLeese Lake Fire Department Facebook photo)

Smartphone innovation and community proactiveness led to the quick extinguishment of a lightning-caused fire in McLeese Lake.

As lightning lit up the sky late Wednesday, June 30 into early Thursday, July 1, so did the phones of residents north of Williams Lake. Some have downloaded apps monitoring lightning strikes in close to real-time. After the storm rolled through and daylight began to poke, locals took to their quads to see if any of the strikes had caused a fire.

Read More: Lightning, heat ignite wildfire season in B.C.; 119 blazes burning

“Sure enough, there’s smoke coming from up where the cell phone tower is in McLeese Lake,” said volunteer firefighter Ian Hicks.

“It was only 50 feet off of one of the power line access trails, so it could have been 1,000 feet in the middle of nowhere, but instead it was right there, and we had our small fire truck.”

BC Wildfire Service immediately responded to the fire that was about half-extinguished by members of the McLeese Volunteer Fire Department. The wildfire service took control of the blaze around noon.

Hicks said the lightning had struck the ground in a mossy, green leafy area that was surprisingly damp from previous bouts of rain, meaning the brush wasn’t dry enough for the fire to rage.

“We were lucky and it’s a win,” he said. “Whenever you have something like this happen, and you get a bunch of people out there, and you find it and everybody teams up together, it’s a good feeling.”

This year’s extreme heat and lightning activity brought back less-than-fond memories of 2017 for Hicks.

He called the situation heartbreaking in Lytton, where residents did not even have a chance.

READ MORE: Preliminary reports of 2 deaths in Lytton wildfire; still unsafe for coroners to enter area

If people haven’t already downloaded a lightning-tracking app on their phone, Hicks encourages them to get one. It could mean a lightning-sparked fire is stopped in its tracks before it can burn out of control.

“I can’t remember how many fires that we found since 2017 when everything was really crazy by using this lightning identifier,” he said, recalling how he combined the app with Google Maps to track a lightning strike in the hills down from Gibraltar mine.

“I drove right up to the tree and it was split right down the middle, so the ability to find the actual tree that was hit by lightning by looking on your phone is just an amazing technology,” Hicks added.

“That’s how we all got to do it as a community going forward. Everybody likes to go for a quad ride, so when you can combine that with trying to be proactive and keep on top of things, it’s a win-win.”

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