Remember back in May and June, when many people in this area were complaining about the long, cold winter and the long, wet spring?
That time seems impossibly, wistfully, long ago now. As I write these words on the afternoon of Sunday, July 23 a wind storm is swirling through the area; hardly uncommon at this time of year, but now, with so much of the foliage on the hillsides burned away, there is nothing to prevent the soil from being swirled down the valley. Not having closed the windows in time, I find almost every surface in the house covered in a fine layer of grit. I imagine this is what windstorms in the Sahara Desert must be like.
And as I write this, I am breaking off every now and then to answer queries about a possible fire in the area. The Journal has received reports that the hay barn at Bradner Farms near the junction of Highways 1 and 97C is fully engulfed. Firefighters from Ashcroft and Cache Creek—who have surely been through more than enough lately, geez Louise can they please get a break now?—are on scene. People who were driving past at the time have added pictures to The Journal’s post about the story. Yes, it looks bad, in an area that has seen more than its fair share of bad recently.
Will we ever look at, or respond to reports of, fires in our area the way we used to, before the behemoth swept through on July 7 and continued north? I suspect not. Fires that would once have gone more or less unnoticed by locals—unless they happened to see them—will now be closely noted and watched, and anxious queries will surely go out. As an example, a hay fire south of Ashcroft at a ranch along Highway 97C on the evening of July 26 had my phone and computer lighting up like a Christmas tree as people tried to find out what was happening.
I was at the Community Hall in Ashcroft on the afternoon of July 15, helping sort and move all the goods that came in from a convoy of vehicles that brought supplies from the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. Twice the power flickered off, only to come back on a few seconds later; and both times the collective response from those in the hall was a clearly audible drawing-in of breath. “Oh no,” it seemed to say; “here we go again.”
“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” Joni Mitchell famously wrote and sang. What we had was: not innocence, exactly, and certainly not complacency—we all know what fire can do—but, I think, an idea that this would not affect us. We’d be okay. Yes, fires happen, but they will be put out and we’ll all be fine. I don’t know that any of us will ever go back to that way of thinking.
My son joined the Ashcroft Volunteer Fire Department in spring 2014, and was a member until he moved to Prince George last October. During the time he was a member I was keenly aware of every fire call that had him and other firefighters heading to the fire hall, but I suspect that most of these calls went unnoticed by others. They won’t anymore.
We are all vigilant now, when we hear the sirens and smell the smoke; and that is good. But do not let fear rule our lives. Be alert, but stay calm. We will endure.