News Local

Are wildfires showing the worst or best of humanity?

By Steve Burgess

Officials turn back James Crossley of Williams Lake after southbound traffic on Highway 97 is closed at Kersley, B.C., July, 10, 2017. Crossley is trying to get home to his wife and two children in Williams Lake. (Richard Lam/Postmedia Network)

Officials turn back James Crossley of Williams Lake after southbound traffic on Highway 97 is closed at Kersley, B.C., July, 10, 2017. Crossley is trying to get home to his wife and two children in Williams Lake. (Richard Lam/Postmedia Network)

Arguments about human nature are almost as old as fire. Are we essentially good? Are we bad? Are we basically selfish, or are we altruistic beings capable of the noblest acts? It's a debate that has been conducted via both philosophy and science. It is often assumed that there is a single definitive answer—people are good or people are bad and things will be better when apes rule the planet. But when crisis strikes the evidence tends to point in both directions.

The current wildfire situation in BC rivals the worst in provincial memory. 40,000 have been evacuated with thousands more on alert. If it is not exactly the equal of last year's Fort McMurray disaster in Alberta it is only because it has not razed a population centre of equal size. As happened last year in Fort McMurray, the crisis has given Canadians many reasons to feel good about themselves. Many have opened their arms and their wallets for evacuees. Firefighters put themselves at risk and support staff have dropped everything to help their efforts.

Meanwhile at least 10 people were arrested in 100 Mile House and Williams Lake and charged with looting. One resident of Big Lake was arrested this week with over $65,000 in stolen equipment in his possession.

If nothing else, events like this certainly do tend to demonstrate human ingenuity. Fake fire marshals popped up in the Quesnel area, handing out phony evacuation notices to homeowners whose houses would then presumably be emptied of valuables by those same helpful marshals. It's almost enough to make you perversely proud of the human species and our despicable ingenuity. At least these scammers are making a door-to-door effort with phony marshal outfits. Most scamming these days takes place at the safe remove of online fundraising. Anybody can do that. The bogus fire marshal routine shows a little bit of flair. Good for you, human vermin.

Are human beings good or bad? If there was a single answer to that question the scams wouldn't work. If there was no such thing as basic human decency the dark side of human nature would have nothing to work with. There's an argument to be made that if we all became irredeemable jerks and opportunistic weasels it would put the scammers out of business because they would have no one to prey upon. I don't imagine that solution will ever take hold. There will always be people who want to help.

In the meantime, maybe focus on dousing campfires and not throwing cigarette butts out the window. There's good and there's bad and then, there's just plain stupid.