Reign of Fire?

Quick recap in case you missed the post (Mad Max Is That You?) and don’t really feel like going back and reading it. We have been living in a heat dome, which is essentially a rare weather phenomenon that turns an area into a pressure cooker, resulting in extreme high temperatures. Clouds are diverted around, so there is no relief until the dome breaks or moves on. Well, ours finally moved on, but not before we had the chance to shatter not only heat records for June, but all-time heat records for all of Canada. Crazy right? Well it get’s crazier.

The highest recorded temperature in Canada in the last week was 49.6C, which is just 7C cooler than the highest ever recorded temperature for Death Valley. Yeah, the name suits it because how can you possibly live in those temperatures? Well the little town of Lytton was managing. But less than 24 hours later the entire town burned to the ground with residents having a mere 15 minutes from the time smoke was spotted until the fire was consuming everything. That fire is still out of control, and the community is still trying to determine if everyone got out ok. There have unfortunately, already been reports of deaths.

In my previous “Mad Max Is That You?” post I contemplated about their records and fate and thought about how Kamloops, where we live, held the second highest temperatures in all of Canada at 47.8C. Were we next? The entire area is tinder-box dry with very little needing to happen to set it on fire. We already know that this season is going to be a bad one. We already have a 35,000 hectare fire out of control just 15 kms from our city limits, resulting in hundreds of evacuations. Those who have lived here all their lives are no stranger to wildfire seasons, but this is not our usual fire season. This type of weather doesn’t usually happen until August. This year we have started it in June.

Ok, you’re caught up with the gist of what I wrote a week ago.

What is one thing you beg for in extreme heat and super dry conditions. Water. Rain. It is desperately needed to quench the lands and diffuse the bomb that is hovering over our heads. But be careful what you wish for. Storms that generally follow heat and forest fires, at least in my experience, are often filled with more than just rain. They are angry, aggressive and can be stunningly beautiful. You watch them with breathless excitement and fear. For the thunder will roll through the valleys and the lightning will dance through the sky, devastating anything it touches. Although nothing to do with T.S.Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” poem, it came to mind when dealing with the 24 hours after my “Mad Max” post.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot

Morbid. Dramatic. Over-reactive. Absolutely to all three of those. My parents always told me when I was younger that I had a flair for the dramatic….But what I had feared as I wrote in the previous post became reality. The dome finally moved, allowing a storm to come charging in. It had already hit other areas of the province with devastating effect. An area very close to Kurts parents is riddled with wildfires due to lightening strikes. Hundreds have been evacuated. In 2017, our last major fire season, the entire town of 100 mile was evacuated due to a fast moving wildfire. Luckily it did not burn down, but there was definitely structures that did. Now, areas surrounding 100 Mile are being evacuated due to the fires started by lightening.

As it hit Kamloops, it hit with a BANG, and certainly didn’t whimper at all throughout the night. It raged, “raged against the dying of the light” (Dylan Thomas for a little more dramatics). At dusk the storm announced its presence with a thunder crack that not only rattled the windows but made me jump almost off the couch. I’m not sure I have ever heard thunder as loud as what we experienced last night. The sky was violent. Deafening cracks of thunder followed by crackling lighting. As we watched, a bolt hit the hillside across the river from us and instantly there was smoke. A few minutes later, as we watched the first fire with bated breath, another strike, just above the first and instantly fire. Again, another few minutes later and a third strike. We couldn’t see where it hit from our house, but my sister who lives further down the valley could and said there was instantly fire. 3 fires in tinder-dry grasslands on the mountainside across the river from our house. Although the river is high, wildfires have jumped it before.

Kurt and I watched the fires with binoculars and were excited to see firetrucks make their way up the hillside, using old access roads from previous years fires. The hillside, called Strawberry Hill, has burned a number of times in the past. As we watched, more and more lightening crackled through the skies. Listening to an app, we could hear so many other areas of town reporting lighting strike fires. It felt like almost every bolt of lighting was resulting in fire.

Then it happened. As we watched trees candling, and the firetrucks retreating to safe distances on the hillside we felt it. Light at first. Just a few drops, but within a minute it was thick, fat drops of rain pelting us with the much needed water we had been hoping for. And it was coming down hard. Within minutes you could see that it was having an effect on the fires that we could see. It was such a relief and we hoped it would continue since the thunder and lightening was also continuing through it all.

Then we saw it. Smoke rising from the other side of another mountain range that is between us and another valley of Kamloops. There was also a glow that was unmistakable. We had been lucky with our fires. Although there were 3, they stayed fairly small and the fire crews had reached them quickly. For a moment I though, nah, it’s just because it is getting darker that it looks worse. But I was deluding myself. Social media was lit up with photos and comments. And it wasn’t the worst of it. There was another fire in that valley, further down, that was aggressive, fast and unpredictable. It was on a hillside with residential areas below and above. Threatening. The residential area above has one road….just one that allows residents in and out…to escape. Like a climactic part of a movie, the heroes sprung to action. The City, BC Wildfire Services, Kamloops Wildfire Services and RCMP started a tactical evacuation. They made the decision quickly, not taking any chances after what happened in Lytton.

Orders were made, people did what they were told, and the area was evacuated while the fire teams worked hard to get control. It was dark by now so there was no help from the water bombers or helicopters. It was all manpower. And it was well organized. Within a few hours, between conditions getting better and the above listed crews working hard, people were able to return home. Unfortunately, like most suspense movies (yes, I’m throwing in another genre), the relief was to be short lived. An hour later the weather stopped cooperating and took the blazes back in an unsafe direction, uncontrollable. Those that had returned home were once again having to leave. But they did, with trust that the crews working the fire would do everything they could.

Ah, so much to overwhelm. During it all, Kurt and I decided to create some go-bags. These are bags with all our important information, supplies, etc. that we would want to grab should the worst happen and we had to evacuate. Only once before have I packed stuff in my car during a wildfire season with the knowledge that a knock could come at our door any minute. We were lucky and it never came to pass. Although, my parents did have to pack my sister and I up in the middle of the night when we were very little to drive us to our grandparents house. The hill behind my childhood home was on fire and dangerously close. Mom and Dad stayed with hoses on, soaking the yard and the fences, and the house. So, you see, none of this is new, and yet here I am, recounting those tense hours in detail. I’m doing it because it is not a normal wildfire season. Records are being broken. Our province is expected to his 100,000 hectares burned by the end of the weekend. That is a new record for a year. And it is only just July. Fire season usually gets going here mid-July. We are weeks ahead of schedule with unprecedented conditions.

The good news is that the fires on the mountainside across from our house are officially out. The fire that threatened houses in Juniper and Valleyview are officially out. The only fire that currently is close to Kamloops is the Sparks Lake Fire which is out of control, and it is heading in the other direction. Unfortunately, it is threatening other communities and many have been evacuated.

So, though I have told this through the lens of storytelling, and maybe a little of dramatics, know that I am looking to document not only what happened but the emotions we had. I love stories, whether through written word, or film, or spoken, so it only seemed fitting that I use stories to explain the emotions of all of this. I am sure this will not be my last post about the fires. I hope it is, and that I can focus on yard projects, woodworking or recipes from the garden, but I feel that this summer has more in store. We will wait and see what the forecast brings


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