A photo taken by Bernie Fandrich outside his Lytton home gained Canada-wide exposure this year.

A photo taken by Bernie Fandrich outside his Lytton home gained Canada-wide exposure this year.

2017 in review part three

Fire devastates the region, destroying homes and forcing evacuations.


Landfill extension gets nearer

Russell Black, president of Belkorp Environmental Services, which operated the Cache Creek landfill site until December 2016, was confident that work would soon begin on the landfill extension.

“Final submissions have been made by the one person who appealed the operational certificate, and we’re just waiting for the results. We’re pretty optimistic that we will have a favourable outcome there, and we’d like to get the business started,” said Black. Cache Creek mayor John Ranta said that he was “very optimistic” that work on the extension could start soon.

Fire devastates region

“Ashcroft-area wildfire leaves many homeless, evacuated, and on alert” read the front page headline in the July 13 issue of The Journal. What was then known as the Ashcroft Reserve wildfire started on the evening of Thursday, July 6, when it was actioned by BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) crews and listed as being 2.1 hectares in size.

The morning of July 7 dawned clear and hot, with no sign or smell of smoke. However, fierce winds from the south that sprung up late in the morning seem to have fanned some remnant of the fire, and it travelled north at a rate of more than 30 km/h, destroying houses and buildings on the Ashcroft Reserve, which was evacuated, and in TNRD Area “I”, including 45 of the 49 residences at the Boston Flats Trailer Park.

By the evening of July 7 the fire had spread to 4,000 hectares and caused the evacuation of the Village of Cache Creek and the Bonaparte Reserve. On the same day, major fires had spread, or sprung up, in and around Princeton, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House, Hanceville, and Quesnel, leading then-Transportation Minister Todd Stone to issue a province-wide state of emergency; the first such order since the wildfire season of 2003.

Staff at the Ashcroft Hospital evacuated all the residents of Jackson House, as well as the assisted-living residents at Thompson View, to Merritt as a precautionary measure. The Village of Ashcroft was without power until the evening of July 8, and BC Hydro crews worked tirelessly to get the power back on. The Village was also without landline service or Internet until July 13, and cellphone service was only available at higher elevations until July 13, when it was fully restored.

Over the weekend of July 8 more evacuation orders were issued for 16 Mile, 20 Mile, Scottie Creek, and Hihium, and an evacuation order for Loon Lake soon followed, with that community suffering heavy loss of structures, including the Loon Lake fire hall.

Volunteer firefighters in Ashcroft and Cache Creek actioned hotspots and did regular patrols in the days following the fire, with round-the-clock coverage in both communities. In Ashcroft the Legion Ladies Auxiliary provided more than 100 meals a day to firefighters, first responders, and Hydro and Telus crews, while in Cache Creek a group of volunteers who had stayed behind provided meals to firefighters and work crews in that community.

The Ashcroft Indian Band set up an Emergency Operations Centre and Emergency Social Services in Ashcroft to assist those who had lost everything or who had been displaced by the fires. Save-On-Foods delivered a semi-trailer full of food and supplies to the Ashcroft Community Hall; a convoy organized by four wheel drive groups brought 20 vehicles’-worth of food and other goods; and donations poured in from individuals wanting to help. Highway 1 was closed from Ashcroft Manor to Cache Creek, and Highway 97 was closed north of Cache Creek, but many of the goods were able to be transported to affected areas to the north.

During the week of July 17 the fire was renamed the Elephant Hill wildfire by the BCWS. The decision was explained as the Wildfire Service “not wanting to imply blame for a certain community,” said fire information officer Max Birkner. “That’s why we try to stay away from calling something the [name of community] fire. [It] could have a negative impact on a community if it’s associated with a fire. We try to stay away from that.”

[Numerous locals wondered why Elephant “Hill” was chosen, when the landmark is referred to in the area as Elephant “Mountain”. It forms part of a provincial park, the official name of which is Elephant Hill Provincial Park”.]

The evacuation order in Cache Creek was lifted on July 18, when Highway 1 was reopened between Ashcroft Manor, Cache Creek, and Kamloops. However, Highway 97 north from Cache Creek was still closed.

The RCMP and the BCWS announced in late July that they were investigating the cause of the fire, and that a dedicated tip line (1-855-685-8788) had been set up for anyone with information.

On July 29 an evacuation order for the Village of Clinton—which had been on evacuation alert since July 14—was issued. By July 31 the fire had spread to 78,540 hectares.


Fire season continues

By the end of the first week in August the Elephant Hill wildfire had expanded to 110,000 hectares and was only 30 per cent contained. The BC Wildfire Service confirmed that the fire was human-caused, and that an investigation was ongoing.

The province-wide state of emergency that had been declared on July 7 was extended for a third time, to August 18.

Forests critic John Rustad toured the Ashcroft Indian Reserve with Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart and AIB chief Greg Blain. Actor, singer, and activist Tom Jackson also visited the reserve, to show the importance of supporting communities in crisis.

A fire camp that had been set up at Cache Creek Elementary School in early July moved to Big Sky on August 11 so the school could get ready to open again on September 3. An Emergency Social Services Centre was set up in the Cache Creek Community Hall, and the Canadian Red Cross continued to operate in the basement of the hall to help those affected by the wildfires.

By August 15 the Elephant Hill fire had ballooned to 168,000 hectares, with most of the expansion on the north and northeast sections of the fire. On the same date, however, the evacuation order for the Village of Clinton was changed to an evacuation alert, allowing residents to return home after 17 days; and evacuation orders along the Highway 97 and 99 corridors were downgraded to alerts, re-opening both highways to traffic.

On August 20 the evacuation order for Loon Lake was changed to an alert, meaning residents who had been evacuated for more than a month could return to their properties.

Investigators into the cause of the fire said that they had eliminated train rail line activities as a possible cause, and confirmed that the fire was not caused by train traffic or rail-maintenance activities on the rail lines.

By the end of August the Elephant Hill wildfire had grown to 175,185 hectares, but was listed as 50 per cent contained. On August 25 the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) announced that because the fire no longer posed an imminent risk to life and properties, evacuation alerts were rescinded and changed to all clear for the Villages of Cache Creek and Clinton.

On August 26 a second convoy of four wheel drive group members arrived in Ashcroft, bringing furniture, mattresses, and other items for the Boston Flats Relief Society, which was collecting (and distributing) items to be used by those whose homes had been lost in the wildfires. Jill Walker, who organized the first convoy on July 15, said that it was not good enough to be a “one and done” effort. “If we’re going to do this, we have to help; we have to make an impact.”

Premier John Horgan toured the area on August 28, meeting with Cache Creek council and visiting the Ashcroft Indian Reserve, where he spoke with AIB chief Greg Blain and council, as well as residents of the Reserve. “I wanted to meet with the Chief, I wanted to meet with Mayor Ranta in Cache Creek, to let people know that the new government is going to be there for them; not just now, when the crisis is happening, but into the future as well,” said Horgan.

Desert Daze attendance down

The thick smoke that had blanketed the region for several weeks cleared just in time for the eighth annual Desert Daze Festival in Spences Bridge on the weekend of August 11; but attendance was still down substantially from past years. Coordinator Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan said that highway closures to the north, the smoke, and people being stressed were probably factors, but added that those in attendance had a fantastic time. Asked if there would be a ninth festival, Varcoe-Ryan said “yes,” adding “We’re already working on the 10th.”

Museum open house

A group of 13 history buffs took advantage of an opportunity to take the QuestUpon augmented reality walking tour of Ashcroft before attending the annual open house at the Ashcroft Museum. This year’s subject was the museum itself; more specifically, the building’s origin in 1917 as the Village’s post office, telegraph office, Customs house, and telephone exchange. Several special exhibits were set up, with Jim White showing off postal history, Rod Craggs talking about telegraphy, and former telephone exchange employees Barnie Craggs and Phyllis Gray on hand. Gray noted that “What happened in the exchange stayed in the exchange.”


Fire season ends at last

By September 4 the Elephant Hill wildfire stood at 192,725 hectares and was still only 50 per cent contained. The province-wide state of emergency was extended for the fourth time on September 1, running through September 15.

On September 12 the TNRD issued a summary of known structure loss and damage suffered due to the Elephant Hill, Little Fort Complex, and Martin Mountain wildfires. A total of 234 structures were lost or damaged, 228 of them due to the Elephant Hill wildfire. The areas hardest hit by the fire were Boston Flats (45 residences lost), the Loon Lake community (40 residences and 33 other structures lost), and the Pressy Lake area, where 33 residences and 24 other structures were destroyed.

On September 17 the TNRD announced that all evacuation orders in the region had been downgraded to evacuation alerts, meaning that for the first time since July 7 there were no evacuation orders in the district.

On September 27—83 days after it began—the Elephant Hill wildfire was declared 100 per cent contained and under control.

Teacher vacancies in SD 74

More than 2,000 teaching positions were created across the province by a Supreme Court ruling in late 2016, and School District No. 74 superintendent Teresa Downs said the district still had seven full-time teaching vacancies as of the start of the new school year. “That’s certainly more than we usually have at this time of year,” she said. She noted, however, that the district had worked hard over the spring and summer on teacher recruitment, and managed to fill 35 teaching positions.

Change coming to bus schedule

Council in Clinton and Ashcroft voted to replace the regular bus run to Kamloops on the first Monday of each month with a run to 100 Mile House instead. The other Kamloops runs each Monday throughout the month would remain the same.

It was felt that the change would allow Clinton residents who have doctors in 100 Mile to access appointments, and that the service would allow all residents of communities served by the transit system to have a change of scene and a pleasant day out by visiting another community. The first 100 Mile run was scheduled for November 6.

Susan Swan retires

Longtime Journal Clinton columnist Susan Swan retired from the position at the end of August; the third time she had attempted to do so. In the past no replacement was found, but in September 2017 the paper welcomed new Clinton columnist Raven Nyman to the Journal’s pages.

Local photo gets major exposure

A photo Bernie Fandrich took of a pond hockey game in the front yard of his Lytton acreage in 2010 was included in Hockey, a souvenir booklet produced by the Canadian Museum of History to accompany a hockey exhibit that toured the country in 2017.

The photo, taken at the pond dubbed “Lake Bernard”, shows family taking part in a pond hockey game on New Year’s Eve, and as far as Fandrich knows is the only photo in the booklet not taken by a professional photographer.


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