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4 ‘irreplaceable’ lives lost, B.C. families, firefighting contractor mourn

Firefighters killed in highway crash near Cache Creek worked for Kamloops-based Tomahawk Ventures

The four British Columbia firefighters who died in a highway crash this week all worked for a Kamloops-based contractor, whose owner said they were “our family.”

Aaron Duczak, owner of Tomahawk Ventures, said three of the men were Indigenous, and that all four were “irreplaceable.”

The men died when their pickup collided head-on with a semi-truck on Highway 1 east of Cache Creek in the province’s southern Interior early Tuesday morning.

Duczak said in a statement that the men’s lives had been “tragically cut short.”

RCMP say the initial investigation suggests a Ford F-350 pickup truck carrying the four men failed to navigate a bend in the highway and slammed into the semi travelling in the opposite direction.

Duczak said the company appreciates the public’s support and concerns but is asking for privacy.

“The wildland firefighting community has lost four good ones and they are irreplaceable,” he said.

Posts on social media accounts belonging to two men who worked for Tomahawk said they died on Tuesday.

The men were Xaxli’p First Nation member Kenneth Patrick and Sts’ailes First Nation member Blain Sonnenberg.

Xaxli’p First Nation Chief Darrell Bob said in an interview that Patrick was among the men who died, saying he was a hard-working man.

He asked that Patrick’s family be given privacy.

Billy Amanda LaRock, an executive assistant at the Sts’ailes First Nation, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that friends and family would be gathering at the Sts’ailes elders log building to mourn Sonnenberg.

On Monday, Sonnenberg had posted a photo marking the end of a 14-day wildfire deployment.

“Well, our 14 days are done with this tour!! Off to the next,” he wrote, tagging Patrick to the picture.

A B.C. government statement on Wednesday said the four men who died were heading home after aiding wildfire response efforts in the Vanderhoof area, west of Prince George.

Posts on Patrick’s Facebook page show videos of him and fellow Tomahawk firefighters.

He is seen joking with colleagues as they conduct controlled burns.

“Up in the heat with my bois smashing out these fires,” he wrote on Aug. 26.

Premier David Eby and Forests Minister Bruce Ralston issued a joint statement saying their hearts are broken by the deaths of the workers.

Their deaths bring to six the number of wildfire personnel who have died this season in the province.

In late July, 25-year-old Zak Muise died in a vehicle accident while fighting a massive fire in northern B.C.

Two weeks before that, 19-year-old Devyn Gale was killed by a falling tree near her hometown of Revelstoke.

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