Over the last six months, our area has been hit by a string of tragedies and disasters. In four separate incidents we lost seven community members in Cache Creek, Ashcroft, and Venables Valley; and in May, Cache Creek once more faced the possibility of more devastating flooding. Combined, these events all seemed as if they would push us—especially our first responders—to the breaking point.
And then came the fire that started on July 6 just south of Ashcroft. The hillsides that all were admiring for their lush green just a few weeks ago were tinder-dry because of the recent hot weather, and a fierce wind sprung up late on the morning of July 7.
That was all that was needed to turn the fire into a juggernaut, racing north and showing no mercy. Soon reports came in of houses on the Ashcroft Reserve destroyed and other structures lost, and then the news that almost the entire community of Boston Flats was destroyed.
Ashcroft lost power and phones, and was placed under evacuation alert. Highways were closed. In Cache Creek, Mayor John Ranta issued an evacuation order, and close to 1,000 people there left for Kamloops and points beyond, wondering what they might come back to.
Did all this—coming hard on the heels of so much tragedy—finally push us past the breaking point? Of course not. Our first responders—from Ashcroft, Cache Creek, the Wildfire Service, and the RCMP—were, as always, magnificent: calm, professional, working together to minimize damage and keep us as safe as they could.
Staff at the hospital made the decision to evacuate our most vulnerable residents, there and at Thompson View Manor and Lodge, safely moving them all to Merritt. In the absence of power to keep the water system running, members of the Ashcroft Village Crew worked ceaselessly to keep the pumps running via generator.
Businesses stepped to the fore. Donations of food and water for the firefighters flooded into the Ashcroft fire hall and were in turn relayed to members of the Cache Creek Fire Department, who did not evacuate, and stayed behind to protect their community. Ordinary people provided random acts of kindness, donating food to the fire hall, offering their generators for other people’s use, and even providing a cell phone charging station so people could stay in touch with others.
On the evening of July 8 I sat on our front deck. The power had come back on earlier that evening, thanks to the tireless work of BC Hydro crews, and Ashcroft was dotted with lights once more. I heard the drone of a CP train as it pulled through town; a sound that was normal and reassuring, and very welcome at a time that has not been normal or reassuring at all.
However, some of our friends and neighbours have lost everything. It is a hard thing to understand or accept; much harder, I know, for those who are processing this loss. On Saturday I looked over my town, where something approaching normalcy had been achieved. I am hopeful that the same can soon be said of our evacuee friends and neighbours in Cache Creek. For many, however, “normal” will never be the same.
Let us help them all, as best we can. After all, we’re small towns, and that’s what we do. We may bend, but we will never break.