Second Trip Home ( Fire #6)

My first trip home had taken place on July 18. On 20th, there was a surge of activity on the fire. The round blue information dot on the north of Clearwater Lake (the one closest to Highway 20) indicates the Terra Nostra Guest Ranch, owned and operated by my helpful neighbour Christoph, whom I have mentioned many times before.

We also heard that Highway 20 was closed again by the Hotnarko fire further north. This was puzzling as there appeared to be no new activity on the Google Earth fire maps there, and when I followed it up with a look at DriveBC, there was no mention of a closure. I learned later that, in anticipation of the strong southwest winds, they had “bombed the hell out of the fire.” When I drove by it yesterday, there was no sign of it – just two new, wide fireguards on either side.

Despite last week’s winds, Google Earth showed the fire to be remarkably calm. It was cool, and apparently a little bit of rain fell, a great combination for slowing the fire down.

One might be forgiven in thinking that all the danger was past. But it is supposed to warm up in a few days, and stay hot, and who knows what might happen. At any rate, it was a good window of calm for me to make a second trip home to pick up a few more items – and, of course, to see what was going on.

I wanted to get there before people started work, and I left the Bella Coola Valley about 2.30:AM. Just before the bottom of the Bella Coola Hill I was surprised to see the headlights of a vehicle – then another – and another. I was dumfounded! Thirteen cars and pickups (judging by the lights) filed past me in slow motion, some with their slow-vehicle flashers going. The only solution I could think of was that personnel from the fire camp near Anahim were travelling down valley to be redeployed elsewhere. Presumably the authorities felt it was safer for a convoy to travel at night when they would not meet anyone. Thank goodness I had not left the valley half an hour before.

I soon found out why the flashers were going. A short distance up the hill I ran into fog so thick I could barely see the edge of the highway. Full beam lights were too dazzling; even low beam made a blur of the fog. All I could do was creep along as close to ditch on the cliff side of the highway as possible. I would see if anyone else was coming as their lights would illuminate the fog, too, but in fact I saw no one at all for the next two hours.

It was still too dark to take pictures when I arrived at my turn-off, but I was blown away by what I saw. I took pictures on the way out, but have posted them in a better order to illustrate what was going on.

First, our road (which used to be the old Highway 20 but has long been decommissioned) now has a name.

Secondly, the sides have been cleared.

Here is a picture of the new fireguard – basically one lane with the forest to the edge like our road used to be. (The burned area on the left was where I saw the flames on my first trip home.

Our road is now naked!

A feller-buncher has ripped out the trees and piled them in windrows.

I’m not sure why they did this here, as the alignment of the road, which is parallel to the river and Highway 20, is not protecting a lot – except access to people travelling back and forth. To add to the disorientation, most of the familiar bumps have disappeared. Whether the road has been graded or simply churned up by the massive amount of heavy traffic, I don’t know – but I am all for that bit!

This was never a pretty forest, being riddled with mistletoe and beetle-kill, but now it’s like being in a clear-cut. Still, as far as I am concerned, whatever works to save my place is fine by me. So far I see no destruction from my house, only greenery. And as a naturalist, I shall be very interested in watching the forest resurrect itself.

You can see from the pictures that the road is still very dry. I left a rooster tail of dust behind me. But, although I don’t think anyone had tended the sprinklers the day before, all the hoses were in place and the ground around the buildings – and the garden – was soaking wet. We are being well looked after.

I took time to weed the carrots and collect bags of greens to take back with me.

By the time I left, I could hear heavy machinery distantly working on our guard and also across the Highway. Helicopters started flying back and forth, often landing and taking off from Christoph’s – no doubt they are using his gravel airstrip, open space, and good water supply as a staging area.

Before I left, I took a side trip – still in the green – to where I’d left a trail camera. From there I could see Clearwater Lake. Christoph’s place is just off the picture to the extreme bottom right. The brown hills behind might be the result of the 2017 fire, as it stopped right about there – or it could be the new fire. In between is a new slash in the ground – no doubt a very good fire guard. Fingers crossed for Christoph. This is not just altruism – if they save his place, they save the Highway – and save us, too.

New phone poles had been set up on Highway 20. There is no power along this stretch, only a phone line that goes to Anahim Lake. No one mentioned the phone had been out, so they must have replaced the poles and wire very quickly. (There are no cell phone towers in this area so keeping lines of communication open would be essential.)

New vistas have opened up – looking west, one can see a few puffers. These are benign now, but with increasing temperatures and strong winds, they have the potential go crazy.

Near the top of the Bella Coola Hill I stopped in one of the numerous old burns up there to view the Rainbow Mountains. The fireweed along the Highway was superb.

So now we wait again.

One Woman's Life In The Wilderness