Life in the Fire Zone — 14-hour days, soot covered faces, heat exhaustion, determination

Langley’s Lincoln Nikkel battles the Cache Creek blaze with other hard-working wildfire firefighters

Lincoln Nikkel had no experience fighting fires, and now the 20-year-old Langley man is in the thick of it, working 14-hour days, covered head to toe in soot, in the heart of the B.C. wildfires.

Nikkel is working the nozzle, creating a black edge on the fires edge at the Cache Creek fire alongside 19 other firefighters from Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and B.C.

The work is grueling, with shifts of 14 days on and three days off, sleeping in tents near the fire zone. But Nikkel said he is exactly where he is supposed to be this summer.

“It’s been hard at certain times, for sure. The lack of sleep, and being on your feet an entire day takes its toll. After our last deployment, my hands were so raw that they would bleed just from tying my boots,” said Nikkel who spoke via email with the Times from the frontlines.

“But in the moments when things are blowing up, I know things have to be done, and that’s where the people around me, and God, give me the strength to keep pushing.”

Nikkel said a lot of deadfall, building up over the years, has created the perfect burning environment.

He hasn’t seen any homes burn but he’s seen a lot of close calls.

“I’ve seen siding of houses torched, or the fires burning right up to their driveways until it runs out of fuel,” he said. “Watching cars leave town with no idea as to if their homes will be there when they get back, makes me realize how blessed I am to live where I do, as well as motivates me to do everything I can to keep their homes safe.”

Nikkel had applied to fight wildfires back in December last year.

With no firefighting experience, there were a series of steps he needed to follow, including a fitness test and an interview.

He actually had another job lined up for this summer.

“But this seemed like the right choice in life right now, and it’s been proven right so far with the wildfires this summer.”

A crew and fire truck from the Township fire department went to help in Williams Lake on July 11. A new crew of five Township firefighters was sent up on July 19 for relief. They, too, have been working 14-hour days, mainly working to protect structures.

There are others from Langley who are working for the the B.C. Fire Service battling the wildfires, including Aiden Kits in Lillooett.

With a heat wave expected to bring temperatures near 40 degrees this week, the hundreds of people working the wildfires, like Nikkel, will be up against the worst conditions yet.

But the Trinity Western University student said watching all the other firefighters work hard along side him and meeting the evacuees is motivation to keep fighting.

“People often ask if they can buy us coffee at gas stations, or similar gestures. So often, these are the people whose property we’re trying to save, so it motivates me even further to do everything I can to help.”

monique@langleytimes.com