The historic cemetery on the Ashcroft Reserve sustained considerable damage in the fire. Photo by Barbara Roden.

Ashcroft Indian Band working to help everyone

In the fire aftermath, the AIB has stepped up to the plate; but staff are feeling exhausted.

The Ashcroft Indian Band was hard-hit by the Elephant Hill wildfire, losing nine single-family residences, a triplex unit (two of which were occupied), and two maintenance buildings filled with equipment and historical documents.

There was also extensive damage to Reserve land, including the historic cemetery on the site.

On August 3 The Journal was able to speak with several people from the Ashcroft Indian Band about the impact on the community, as well as challenges the Band has faced and is facing. Those who spoke with the paper were Ashcroft Indian Band chief Greg Blain; band administrator Jodene Blain; Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) director Nicole Pigeon; Emergency Social Services (ESS) staff member Char Pittman, who is also the health director at the AIB health centre; and Stew Michel, who is in operations.

JB: It took us a few days [to set up an EOC and ESS]. There was no power. We tried different places.

GB: We had to learn about what an EOC was, and it took a few days. Once it was up and running we got organized, but it was a learning process.

NP: It still is a learning process. Finance, logistics, operations, planning; there’s lots of behind-the-scenes stuff. People don’t know what we do. We’ve been in constant contact with evacuees from the AIB, and we know where everyone is. We’ve talked to them on the phone, through social media, and through family members.

JB: It’s been a huge challenge to get people trained for ESS.

CP: Three of us got trained, and the next day we were filling out paperwork; not just for AIB members but for people in Boston Flats, Cache Creek, Clinton, 16 Mile, Loon Lake, Williams Lake.

JB: Our staff had to jump in. Greg made the decision to open the ESS for everyone affected, and we were slammed with people from other communities. People are really stressed.

NP: Our ESS team dealt with people from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) as well. There’s been no TNRD support.

CP: There’s been no communication with people from Boston Flats from the TNRD. They’re expecting us to deal with it.

JB: The AIB staff are exhausted, doing all the paperwork. We don’t want to turn anyone away.

NP: There’s no difference between people from the Ashcroft Indian Band, Boston Flats, Loon Lake. The ESS is for everyone. But we’re only a team of four, and we can’t have a day off.

CP: People will now be coming to the ESS from 16 Mile, Marble Canyon, and we’ll welcome them with open arms. But 12 people took ESS training at the Ashcroft HUB last week, and only two have stepped forward to help us.

JB: And we’re struggling with the Red Cross.

NP: Only six per cent of AIB members—two families—(“Not mine!” says Greg Blain) have received assistance.

NP: It seems AIB members are not getting support, and it’s very frustrating.

GB: The Evacuation Order for most of the Reserve was lifted on August 3. The Order still applies to the houses that were lost.

CP: Because people don’t qualify for ESS support once the Order is lifted.

NP: We’ve received no information from the TNRD. Some people are frustrated, and we understand their frustration.

JB: We hope to be back in the Band office next week [the week of August 7], and will slowly move back there and start to downsize. People have jobs to go back to.

CP: I’ll go back to the health centre; and who will replace me at the ESS? We don’t want to leave people high and dry.

JB: Emergency Services BC doesn’t pay the staff wages [for the EOC and ESS]; those are being paid by the Ashcroft Indian Band.

CP: We need the people who took the ESS training at the HUB to help out, whatever time they can give. Nine o’clock a.m. to noon would help us. There’s lots of paperwork to do.

GB: We’re looking to start taking everything down [clearing sites] next week [the week of August 7].

SM: We’ve had two houses where families have gone back [to search the site with the assistance of Samaritan’s Purse volunteers]. We’re asking homeowners if they want to go up there with Samaritan’s Purse. Some do, some don’t. We’re trying to coordinate with people.

GB: We’d be cleaning up all their memories.

JB: Some people can’t go back there yet. They’re too traumatized.

SM: We’re giving them the option, house by house.

JB: We’re trying to do that part as fast as possible.

CP: Safety is the bottom line. There are septic tanks up there with no lids. People want to go back, and once we tell them why they can’t, they’re fine. We have to let them know the real facts.

JB: We’ve worked tirelessly to go through all the steps to get people back home.

GB: In a safe manner.

JB: It’s a slow process, but we’re trying to do it as fast as we can.

NP: Everyday people are doing great stuff.

JB: Businesses have been amazing. And people have been coming in with their GST cheques, to donate them.

GB: London Drugs was the first one in, with a donation of toiletries. Belkorp was great, providing power [from the methane gas plant at the landfill]. Santo Talarico has been great. There’s been more good than bad.

JB: The Cook’s Ferry Band has been great, as well as other small bands around us: Skeetchestn, Siska, Lower Nicola. Neighbouring chiefs offered help.

NP: Brandy at the bakery… .

JB: All our historical maps and records are gone, plus all our tools and equipment. And we’ve had no visit from our MP or the premier.

[A couple from Princeton comes into the EOC to say they have a truck full of household items they want to donate. Greg and Stew offer to drive with them up to the Band office and help unload the items there.]

NP: We appreciate the help we’ve got. But I know that Greg would really like Shania Twain to come.

CP: Let people know about the ESS at the River Inn [which could be moving soon]. It’s open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. And the EOC is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

NP: Everyone is exhausted.

CP: We stepped up to the line. We said we’d deal with this. We’re very proud to be Ashcroft Indian Band members.

An account has been set up at the Royal Bank of Canada for donations to Ashcroft Indian Band members, to help those who lost their homes and all their possessions. Donations can be made at any RBC branch using account number 02320-003-1027358 (AIB Fire Donations). Donations can also be made at the EOC on Railway Avenue in Ashcroft (beside Fields).