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Tree faller in B.C. dies while battling wildfire

Wildfire contractor John Joe Phare, 60, killed by falling tree


A tree faller was killed while helping to fight a wildfire at the Old Sechelt Mine near Sechelt, British Columbia on the late morning of July 5.

The B.C. Coroners Service (BCCS) stated in a media release that the victim had been felling trees at about 11:45 a.m. that day when one tree fell on top of him, killing him instantly. Officers with the RCMP’s Sunshine Coast detachment and the B.C. Ambulance Service were called to the scene of the incident shortly after noon, according to police info.

The BCCS confirmed the deceased worker’s identity as 60-year-old John Joe Phare, who had lived in Roberts Creek. Phare was a contract worker with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS).

The RCMP did not respond to COHSN’s request for an interview, but Constable Harrison Mohr of the detachment provided a press statement later on the day of the incident.

“This is a tragic example of how truly dangerous it is for those battling these wildfires and should serve as a reminder of just how important it is for us all to do our best to prevent these fires from starting in the first place,” said Const. Mohr. “We are fortunate to have such brave men and women working to protect our homes and communities.”

The RCMP, BCCS and BCWS are investigating the incident in cooperation with WorkSafeBC, the province’s workers’ compensation authority.

Wildfire-related occupational fatalities seldom happen in British Columbia, according to Trish Knight Chernecki, WorkSafeBC’s senior manager of media and government relations. “We haven’t had a fatality for a wildfire for – the records I’ve seen is, over 10 years,” she said. “So this is very rare.”

Chernecki could not provide further details about the incident, as the investigation was ongoing.

BCWS has expressed public condolences for Phare’s death, as have the United Steelworkers (USW), the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) and the National Union on Public and General Employees (NUPGE).

“We are saddened to lose a valued member of our firefighting family,” B.C. Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson said in a press statement on July 6. “I hope the thoughts and prayers of John’s co-workers and of Sunshine Coast residents are able to provide his family and friends some comfort.”

“John was regularly called upon to help with wildfires and put his logging skills to work to ensure that fires did not spread,” said Stephen Hunt, USW District 3 director, and Brian Butler, USW Local 1-1937 president, in a joint statement on July 7. “Everyone owes a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women, like John, who put themselves at risk to protect our homes and communities.”

“It’s a tragedy when any worker loses their life on the job,” said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith in a July 8 statement, “and we hope [Phare’s] family can take some solace knowing that he was helping protect the public from wildfires.”

NUPGE national president James Clancy also pitched in a statement on July 8. “Across Canada right now, there are hundreds of women and men who are working to protect their communities,” he noted. “They deserve our unconditional support and thanks.”

Phare had worked as a tree faller for about three decades and had recently become engaged to his girlfriend of seven years, according to media reports.