Four young men travelling home after helping in the battle against wildfires in central British Columbia are dead after a fiery head-on crash, police and provincial officials said Wednesday.
RCMP Cpl. James Grandy said emergency crews responded around 2 a.m. Tuesday to the crash on Highway 1 east of Cache Creek in the province's southern Interior.
A B.C. government statement said the men were heading home after aiding wildfire response efforts in the Vanderhoof area, west of Prince George.
Grandy said the initial investigation suggests a Ford F-350 pick-up truck the young men were travelling in failed to navigate a bend in the highway and slammed head-on into a semi-truck travelling in the opposite direction.
The semi-truck caught fire, but the driver was able to escape before the vehicle was "engulfed," the Mounties said in a statement.
All four men inside the pick-up truck, who Grandy said were from communities across B.C., died at the scene. They have been identified as subcontractors for the BC Wildfire Service, police said.
Premier David Eby and Forests Minister Bruce Ralston issued a joint statement saying their hearts are broken by the news of the deaths of the workers.
"This is devastating news in what has been an immensely difficult wildfire season. We stand with wildfire fighters and all BC Wildfire Service personnel as they mourn the death of colleagues and co-workers yet again."
Speaking to media at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver, Ralston said the deaths are more tragic news in a very tough wildfire season.
"It's emotionally wrenching and heartbreaking to hear of people who have completed their work, on their way home, and meet with their deaths on the road."
Asked about the role of the subcontractors in firefighting efforts, Ralston said such details are "still emerging."
The 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.
Grandy said a stretch of Highway 1 had reopened after closing for the initial investigation that involves the BC Coroners Service and an RCMP collision reconstructionist.
Despite the early indications, he said the exact cause of the crash will have to wait until the results of the completed investigation.
Grandy said he's not entirely familiar with the specific location on the highway, but he understands the route is winding in the area.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.
Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press