Life

Residents disgruntled on how wildfires have been handled

By Raven Nyman

A fire located near Ashcroft and Cache Creek, B.C. grew from about 700 hectares to just under 4,000 hectares in a span of about five hours on Friday, July 7, 2017. Some 1,000 Cache Creek residents have since been evacuated from their homes as of Saturday morning, July 8, 2017, with more than two dozen trailer homes destroyed already. (Raven Nyman for Postmedia News)

A fire located near Ashcroft and Cache Creek, B.C. grew from about 700 hectares to just under 4,000 hectares in a span of about five hours on Friday, July 7, 2017. Some 1,000 Cache Creek residents have since been evacuated from their homes as of Saturday morning, July 8, 2017, with more than two dozen trailer homes destroyed already. (Raven Nyman for Postmedia News)

British Columbia is burning, and everyone’s looking for somebody to blame.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve been personally impacted by the current wildfires burning across the province, you’re bound to have an opinion on where blame should be placed. Fires caused by human activity are the most frustrating, and it can be easy to cast blame on those who engage in illegal burning or careless disposal of their cigarette butts.

When the devastation caused by natural disasters is preventable, we’re certainly entitled to a desire for justice. After all, with dozens of homes lost in multiple communities throughout B.C.’s interior, residents need something to explain the despair they feel. 

Though some of the more prominent fires burning across the province have already been determined as caused by human activity, others were caused naturally, by lightning strikes. Still, many residents feel disgruntled about the way in which the wildfires have been handled.

Some place blame on emergency response crews, while others look to criticize the government’s handling of natural disasters and the alleged lack of preparations made in the year following Fort McMurray’s devastating 2016 fire.

Feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration are only natural during a crisis. Displays of kindness and hospitality, on the other hand, seem much farther off.

Still, in contrast to the reports of looting and theft that have come out of B.C.’s interior in the past weeks, there are also reports of other, more inspiring experiences to suggest that even in times of crisis, kindness and generosity prevail.

We are currently still under an evacuation order, displaced from our home in 100 Mile House nearly two weeks ago. During the past weeks, we have moved multiple times as a result of continued evacuation alerts and subsequent orders in the Village of Clinton and the outlying communities near Loon Lake and 16 Mile.

The Cariboo region is our home, and as I write today, prominent forest fires continue to burn throughout the area, destroying memories and displacing families as they go.

For many families like ours, the British Columbia wildfires have resulted in not one but multiple evacuation alerts and orders. That can mean weeks of displacement, worry, unemployment, and increased financial burdens, too.

To be clear, an evacuation alert does not mean that citizens need to leave their homes. In fact, businesses can and do remain open while under alert. I worked alone for three days in 100 Mile House while the community was under evacuation alert.

Evacuation orders, however, go beyond a mere indication of risk in your area. An evacuation order is issued when hazards threaten potential loss of life and/or property for residents of the affected area, meaning that once an evacuation order has been issued, residents are expected to gather their personal belongings and evacuate the area as soon as possible, proceeding to the nearest evacuation site or emergency reception centre.

In addition to the thick layer of smoke that is currently blanketing our province, B.C. residents who have been personally affected by the July wildfires have a lot of weight on their shoulders. During evacuation procedures, many residents were less worried about getting themselves out safely and more concerned with how — and where — to move their livestock and beloved pets.

For those within the small communities that line B.C.’s interior, this prioritizing is rather unsurprising. Ranching is not just a means of employment for many individuals and families in the area, but a way of life.

When the Ashcroft Reserve fire — now renamed the Elephant Hill fire — moved through Cache Creek to reach the Bonaparte Reserve on July 7, my family was there assisting efforts to load and transport livestock safely out of the fire-zone.

That day, my father announced our ranch as an available space for evacuees to keep their horses. He continued to aid in transporting and sheltering evacuated livestock in the days to follow until eventually hauling his own animals to safety when an evacuation order reached his property.

He was not alone in his efforts to help others during a time of crisis and was helped in turn when push came to shove. 

Individuals and families across B.C. have rallied together to support each other during the fires that have affected them, with groups from other provinces even offering their support to strangers here in the Cariboo.

Ranchers like my father have opened their properties for evacuated livestock, while good-samaritans have assisted in hauling trailers, transporting goods, and donating their time and effort to assist evacuees. Children and youth have worked together to raise donations to fund evacuee support, and community members have even banded together to face spot-fires themselves, proving that in the face of disaster, British Columbians are compassionate, selfless, and resilient, too.

For those who have lost their homes to the B.C. wildfires, the charity of strangers may be all they have left. Residents in Cache Creek and Ashcroft, as well as property owners South of Clinton, have had their evacuation orders lifted and have been allowed to return to their homes; however, for thousands of evacuees who are still displaced across the province, the wait continues.

As the days go on, B.C. residents continue to support and look out for one another, even coming up with the hopeful social-media hashtag, #BCStrong.