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Fire fighters had to be vigilant at all times. Fires could start at any time. Jake Friesen and his crew were on high alert during the most dangerous periods.


“The fire season which was considered to be most critical during the hot months of summer had been relatively free of major fires. However, in fall it was a different story. We had fires galore. Two things were mainly responsible for these fires. According to law, lumber companies were required to burn off the slash (branches and bark) once an area has been logged off. Hunters often tossed away their cigarettes carelessly or failed to properly extinguish camp fires that they had lit while waiting for daylight so that hunting could begin or to heat water for a cup of coffee.”


“Fire fighting consisted mainly of building a fire guard around a fire to keep it from spreading and then patrolling it to watch for possible jumps across the fire guard. Only once did we engage in fighting a fire that had the potential of creating hazardous or dangerous circumstances. One hot and windy day a fire had got into an area of second growth of timber and was quickly burning out of control. If it had not been for a shift in the wind, who knows what might have happened.” [ASM, 290-292]


Fire fighting was one of the COs' most urgent duties. A summary of CO work in the winter of 1942-1943 summarizes the importance of their presence:


“The Alternative Service Workers extinguished or assisted on 89 fires in the Vancouver Forest District. Exceedingly satisfactory results marked their efforts on outbreaks attacked while still small. These crews attacked 72 small fires (1 acre or less) with such success that the average spread per fire was only ¼ acre. Any one of these fires was potentially a destroyer which could have gained 4-inch [10 cm] headlines …. This is a real testimony for well-trained and equipped suppression crews standing by on the alert in the emergency.” [ASM, 286]


Examining fire fighting identification tags at Green Timbers. These tags would be used to identify bodies if COs died in a fire. David Jantzi far right.

  David Jantzi worked in the camps as a fire fighter, tree planter and snag faller.  One of the hardest days was when he had to walk 10 miles up a mountain carrying firefighting equipment to fight a fire.

Minister Gray used an example of the COs efficient fire fighting in a letter to Justice A.M. Manson, Chairman of the Mobilization Board, Division “K”.


“By way of illustration in this regard, it might be noted that the average elapsed time between report of a fire and departure of a fully equipped crew from the trained camps last summer was less than three minutes. A surprise test of a trained “stand-by” crew gave the following results:


Test fire started                                               3:00 pm

Smoke reported by lookout                           3:03 pm

Crew started for fire                                        3:05 pm

Arrived at fire (11 miles [18 km] by road)     3:22 pm

Fire extinguished                                             3:27 pm

Crew arrived back at camp                            3:54 pm


This ‘preparedness feature' constitutes the principle value of these camps and it cannot be compensated for under any other manpower plan…. They [alternative service workers] have served a function of great national importance and will continue to do so in these camps. The need is as urgent as ever and they cannot be replaced.” [ASM, 287]


Mennonite Objectors do well in Bush Fire. (MHC, 1159-1)


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