Claudia Cornwall has written a new book on the 2017 wildfires, which provides personal snapshots of the worst fire season in B.C.’s history. (Photo credit: Submitted)

Claudia Cornwall has written a new book on the 2017 wildfires, which provides personal snapshots of the worst fire season in B.C.’s history. (Photo credit: Submitted)

New book looks at B.C.’s worst wildfire season

‘British Columbia in Flames’ provides intimate snapshots of a harrowing time

When British Columbia was burning in 2017, communities came together in an “astonishing crescendo of goodwill,” according to author Claudia Cornwall.

That’s the story she conveys in her new book, British Columbia In Flames: Stories from a Blazing Summer. Through 50 interviews with those in the thick of the wildfires — whether to battle the flames in their communities, save animals, or protect their homes — Cornwall weaves together an evocative narrative of those harrowing days while highlighting the sense of community.

“You see what it takes to go through a crisis, how people pull together, and how important community is to get through something,” Cornwall says. “People did support each other a lot.”

Personal and riveting snapshots are drawn out in each chapter, which focuses on a specific community — Ashcroft, Cache Creek, 16 Mile, 100 Mile, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Hanceville-Riske Creek, Clinton, Pressy Lake-70 Mile-Green Lake, and Sheridan Lake — taking readers unnervingly back to that summer three years ago.

It starts with Cornwall’s own experience at Sheridan Lake, where she flees the cabin that has been in her husband’s family for 60 years. As the weeks drag on, and the fire continues its rampage throughout the region, she wonders if she will ever see it again.

“As the fire got closer we watched it with a lot of trepidation,” says Cornwall, who lives in North Vancouver. “We never thought it would be on our doorstep. I felt a lot of emotion.”

The narrative is clean, bright, and informative, sharing the stories of those at the heart of the worst fire season in B.C.’s history. It highlights people like Barb Woodburn at 16 Mile, who took in strangers’ horses and then relied on her neighbours’ ingenuity to save her ranch with trucks and 250-gallon tanks. 100 Mile RCMP Staff-Sgt. Svend Nielsen slept under his desk and lived in his camouflage shorts and Green Bay Packers T-shirt. Bonaparte First Nations Chief Ryan Day stayed with his band members to fight the fire.

“I didn’t want to just write about me, because I knew a lot of people had more dramatic stories than ours,” Cornwall says. “I’m full of admiration for the people I met.”

She was particularly inspired by Williams Lake’s Lana Shields, who gathered more than 300 horses that behaved “as if they knew they were going to be helped.”

Cornwall was also “quite taken” by Samantha Smolen, a rookie firefighter on the Alkali Lake unit crew, which took on spark duty on Slater Mountain and was told by their boss that “You guys saved Williams Lake.”

“This is an important story to tell, part of the history of British Columbia,” Cornwall says. “We came through it pretty well.”

Cornwall also draws out the anxiety felt by those stuck in the middle of the fire, such as Teri-Lyn and Kenny Dougherty at Maiden Creek, or Andra and Rick Holzpfels, frantically trying to get themselves and their children safely out of the Bowron Lakes. She also puts herself in the narrative, both during her interviews and earlier, when the fire was threatening her cabin.

“It was really roaring, going 40 clicks, and it was candling,” she says of the fire at Sheridan Lake. “At night the wind shifted and the lake was saved. We didn’t know if it would return or not.”

The book not only highlights what happened, but reminds us that we aren’t out of the woods when it comes to wildfires. About half of wildfires are human-caused, including the 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire. The recent wildfires in the U.S. this past summer are a good example that it could happen again, Cornwall says.

“We need to look after our forests, so hopefully some money trickles in to support our forests.”



editorial@accjournal.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

100 Mile HouseCariboo Regional District

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

Aerial view of a wildfire at 16 Mile, 11 kilometres northwest of Cache Creek, that started on the afternoon of June 15. (Photo credit: BC Wildfire Service)
Wildfire at 16 Mile now being held

Wildfire started on the afternoon of June 15 at 16 Mile, east of Highway 97

The Desert Daze Music Festival is doggone good fun, as shown in this photo from the 2019 festival, and it will be back in Spences Bridge this September. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
‘Best Little Fest in the West’ returning to Spences Bridge

Belated 10th anniversary Desert Daze festival going ahead with music, vendors, workshops, and more

Internet speed graphic, no date. Photo credit: Pixabay
Study asks for public input to show actual internet speeds in B.C. communities

Federal maps showing Internet speeds might be inflated, so communities lose out on faster Internet

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference in August 2019 about provincial government approval of the city’s change to a municipal force, joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. Members of the National Police Federation claim there is still no transition plan in place although Surrey RCMP’s contract with the city is due to end March 31.(File photo)
Elections BC approves petition application for referendum on Surrey policing transition

Application was filed under Recall and Initiative Act by the widow of a Surrey murder victim

Fiery crash on the Okanagan Connector between two semis. (Facebook)
One dead after fiery Okanagan Connector crash between two semis

DriveBC estimates road won’t be open until 5 p.m.

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver lawyer, has been suspended from practice for two months after admitting that his firm mismanaged $44,353.19 in client trust funds. (Acumen Law)
High-profile B.C. lawyer suspended over $44K in mismanaged client trust funds

Queen’s counsel Paul Doroshenko admits he failed to supervise his staff and find or report the shortages

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

Athena and Venus, ready to ride. (Zoe Ducklow - Sooke News Mirror)
Goggling double-dog motorcycle sidecar brings smiles to B.C. commuters

Athena and Venus are all teeth and smiles from their Harley-Davidson sidecar

Most Read