This is downtown Kleena Kleene – just before I was evacuated from the fire.
Thanks you so much all of you who have written concerned about me and the dogs. I am safe and comfortable, staying with very good friends in the Bella Coola Valley. I have my own cabin and internet access so can find out what is going on as best I can. The stores are short of supplies, but there is plenty of garden food around and no smoke. If it weren’t for helicopters flying overhead several times a day you would never know there was a disaster. My property also, although it is very close to the Kleena Kleene Complex of fires, is in a good position, well protected by two rivers and some open fields and wet areas. Although we are under evacuation order, many of my neighbours who have ranches have stayed. Compared with many of the thousands of evacuees, I am in very good shape.
It started July 7th. I drove the 3 and half hours to Williams Lake to pick up a friend; we were going to fly in to Nuk Tessli and do some hiking. My friend’s bus was delayed because of fires that had erupted south of Williams Lake near 100 Mile and Ashcroft. No thunder had been forecast, but it was very hot and while I waited thunder rolled and I saw lightning smash into some small hills east of town. Within an hour huge clouds of smoke were roiling up. I picked up Miriam and we got out of town as fast as we could. Across the Fraser river (half an hour out of town) we could see the steam towers from the fires. Smoke often rolls along the ground but steam rises into white cauliflower shapes. Steam towers happen only when the fire is very fierce.It was a relief to climb out of the Fraser valley but as soon as we got onto the plateau we could see what looked like possible trouble ahead.As the road twisted and turned, one moment we seemed to head straight for the fire, next moment it looked as though we would miss it. (Excuse my fly-spotted windshield.)About an hour out of town is a road junction south to Chilco Lake. Known as Hanceville or Lee’s corner, it comprises 3 residents, two of whom own a restaurant. I often stop there to pick up the best carrot cake ever. Just before you get there you reach outhouses at the top of a hill. That is where the cops stopped us.There were apparently a string of fires; only one was south of the highway (in the Stone Indian Reserve) but this is what had blocked the road. We were told to go back and regroup a few kilometres east. It was a hot dry evening and Miriam and I were equipped for camping but we had very little water. We all milled around not knowing what to do. The restaurant owner and his wife (maker of the famous carrot cake) were also detained there. They had been shopping in Williams Lake and were hoping the wind would die down so they could get back home. The other resident of Hanceville told us he was going to be arrested if hadn’t moved. He had found his two dogs and one cat but not the other cat.
We were all parked in a rancher’s field. One guy said he used to work for forestry and he knew some logging roads we could use to get around the fire. It would be very dusty and rough. We jumped at the chance and hurtled after him in his dust cloud.There appeared to be a string of 4 or 5 fires, and our route took us between them. (Some of these pictures were taken by Miriam.)Other traffic was on the road – the route was known by locals. We also encountered cows. (The blue cast is the tinted top part of my windshield.)At last the air cleared somewhat.And soon we rounded the last fire.We could then look back at the steam towers from the benign safety of the other side. A normally 20 minute drive had taken us more than an hour longer.From there it was about 2 and half hours home. The logging trucks had been stopped that very day and there was very little traffic on the road. Because it was so late, it was dusk before we got to the Kleena Kleene area. It had been a beautiful evening, but half an hour before home we smelled smoke. Fire smoke smells like a bonfire, full of green material. Downtown Kleena Kleene is just a ranch with hay fields now and the fire was beginning to flare on the hillside behind it. There seemed to have been quite a heavy shower. There were puddles on my road.
The following morning was calm and sunny, and Miriam and I walked up on the dunes to see what was going on. The BC Wildfire website (link later) showed a few red dots in my area – the most disturbing was one 2 km north. But up on the dunes we could see nothing there. The KK one was smouldering, though. And as we watched, a chopper flew by with a bucket of water. You could see the water trailing behind it.He flew right to the northern fire and dumped several buckets on it. We couldn’t even see that fire until steam rose from it.And although the wind got up severely the next day, we never saw any problem with that fire again.
Miriam is no stranger to fire. She lives in northern Saskatchewan and two years ago her cabin, which was on an island 2 km into a lake, was burned. Also her husband works as an aircraft mechanic for water bombers so they know a lot about the procedures (and the appalling red tape that prevents firefighters from working.) Miriam said it would be a good idea to skirt the decks with tarps to stop stray sparks being blown underneath and this is what we did.The tarps won’t stop a fire of course, just stray sparks. Note also the lovely new greenhouse roof put up by the wonderful caretakers I had while I was in the Yukon!
We suddenly had no phone or Internet. The power and phone lines had been burned through at Hanceville. The restaurant that had been such a feature of the country for years was gone. (This photo fr0m the Vancouver Sun article about fires of note – link later.)The next day we walked up onto the dunes again. The wind was beginning to get up. (How gorgeous the weather is away fro the fires!)
With no phone or internet, we decided to drive west half an hour to Nimpo Lake – they had a different power and phone system so we were able to get some news. Highway 20 was closed at Hanceville (unsurprisingly) and other fires had started around the province. The KK fire was still a reasonable distance from the road.
But by the time we had driven back, the KK fire suddenly erupted.
This is what it looked like from home.That evening, the wind died right down and it seemed so calm we decided to stay. We continued preparing to leave the following day. That evening I heard a vehicle drive into the yard. It was a cop car. I knew what they were going to say. They handed us an evacuation order.We knew this was a likelihood, and were almost ready to go. The cop was a bit put out that we were heading west as they wanted everyone out of there. Highway 20 had been opened for eastbound traffic but you couldn’t go south, only north to Prince George. But I knew that my friends in the Bella Coola Valley would have garden veg. No guarantee they might not have fires in the future – as they often have in the past – but there was always the ferry and flights to get out. We put the last touches to the porch. Note the pick ribbon. The cops had a code. There was an array of colour at the end of the road. Pink for evacuated, blue for not at home, and red for staying. Really good news for looters.It was nearly dark. I drove the van loaded with food – because I have sensitivities I cannot buy stuff anywhere – and in any case neither food nor gas could get through the closure at Hanceville. Miriam drove my truck and trailer loaded with the atv and various other items. They were not priorities to take out but they were expensive and I had the room and an extra driver so why not? Once more it was a calm and very beautiful evening. Only a hint of smoke from the fire.It was dark when we arrived at Nimpo. We slept in the vehicles. We left the truck and trailer with a friend and drove down the Bella Coola Hill early in the morning. The smoke there was from the Precipice Fire.Miriam was due back in Saskatoon in a few days. Although Hwy 20 was open to the east, if I’d taken her to Williams Lake I would not have been allowed back. Also there was no bus now from Williams Lake. So she managed to plan a route by ferry to Bella Bella, another ferry to Prince Rupert, train to Prince George, then on the bus. She left on the 12th, 5 very full days since I had picked her up.
The Precipice fire managed to snag 22 firefighters, 3 sprinkler experts, and 3 helicopters. It was a fire that was no longer very active and it seemed a bit over the top when the KK fire had nobody. Helicopters roared back and forth over my friends’ Bella Coola place all day carrying slings of equipment. All sorts of rumours abounded – such as there were 3 inactive waterbombers at Port Alberni but they were not allowed to use them until August.
After a couple of days regrouping, I decided to try and go home. My garden would die without water. The wind was gentle but from the south – not good news as it would blow the smoke directly to my place. Which proved to be the case. Here is the view of the mountains.I could barely see the Internet Hill.The garden was parched. With the drought and the earlier heat, a lot of the plants have bolted.I don’t have a lot of water in my well so must be very careful with it. I stayed about 5 hours and did the best I could, but the smoke was disconcerting and strong winds were forecast so I decided to head back to the Bella Coola Valley.
I am monitoring the fires with various sites. Here is the BC Active Wildfires one. When you open it, you get this:New fires are red dots, old, smaller ones are orange dots, dangerous ones are the ones with flames. The one closest to Bella Coola on the left is the Precipice fire. The one south east of it is the Kleena Kleene fire complex. The mess on the right is the Williams Lake area. If you click on one of these flame patches, you will see another link to the page of the wildfire and that will give you more information.
Another more useful site is the American Modis site which tracks heat from a satellite. Click on Canada, Click on BC, then click on JPeg on the right. Yellow is calm, orange is busier, red is very active. Here is what it looked like earlier today.Williams lake is on the right, the Hanceville mess is the big area near it. The Kleena Kleene fire is much smaller – it hasn’t yet crossed the road but the red dots are awfully close. (No official crew, but some local people are out there digging a fire break.) The Precipice fire is barely noticeable.
My place is about 5 km north of the KK fire, on the other side of the road.
Last night Williams Lake was evacuated. The town is probably safe but the road to the north has now become too dangerous because of a fire. So evacuees are being asked to get to Kamloops.
Here are a couple of good articles. CBC. Vancouver Sun.
Thing is, the fire season goes right through August. Unless we get good rain, we are stuck with all this uncertainty until then.
23 thoughts on “FIRE!”
Like others I have been checking your site to see if there was any news of the fires. I have been following the BC Fire website but since I didn’t know the exact location of your home it didn’t help me a great deal! But now I have a much better idea and relieved to hear you are safe, I just hope your home is too and that your garden survives. A group of Australian firefighters left Sydney yesterday headed to BC to help.
Hi Chris: Glad to see your blog I too was wondering how you were doing at KK. I was up at Nimpo, five years later getting my well finally hooked up. Was there when thunder and lightening rolled by. Last Friday we drove to Williams lake through the fires on both sides of the road, scary stuff. As usual your pictures are amazing. Took the route up to Prince George and over to Jasper to get home to Vancouver. Stay safe.
Chris, Thanks for this detailed description of the situation in your area. I really appreciate it, since my family owns a small cabin on Clearwater Lake and we have been worried about its fate. But most of all, we’ve been worried about all of you who live there year round in such an amazing location. I’m glad to hear that you are safe and sound in Bella Coola; I only hope that your place and the many others around you are spared this dreadful fire. All your hard work to produce you little bit of sanctuary, it’s heartbreaking. Take care.
We’re feeling really sad we can’t meet because of these frightening conditions. We were so excited of our staying but the nature won. Not for the first time and not for the last. But the most important is you are safe now. I hope you’ll be able coming back home nearly soon.
We’re feeling really sad we can’t meet because of these frightening conditions. We were so excited of our staying but the nature won. Not for the first time and not for the last. But the most important is you are safe now. We hope you’ll be able coming back home nearly soon.
Hi Chris, I have been very concerned for you and your home, so very glad to see your post and to know that you are well and safe. I pray that all the others in your area as well as their homes will be safe also.
So glad to see this post. Have been checking your site regularly since I heard of the fires. Thinking of you in this dreadful upset. Hoping for rain, for your home and your garden.
The pictures you have posted bring this story out of the tv and newspapers and give it a very real and frightening face. Thanks for posting them.
Stay safe with your friends. Pat
Hello Chris, you are safe in Bella Coola – and your two dogs. That is great news. Your photographs took our breath away, we scrolled through once quickly and then a second and third time and really looked at them – the photographs and your description gave us a view of how bad this is becoming. Your photographs are quite a record. We hope you maybe on the Island in the Autumn. It would be good to see you then. Be safe.
Anne and John Silins, Chemainus
Oh my goodness! When I heard about William’s Lake on NPR I immexiately went to your blog. Please know I am upholding you and your animal friends and neighbors. Extraordinary pictures and words that you write to describe them and your experiences!
Linda in Idaho
Oh my goodness! When I heard about WilliamLake on NPR I immexiately went to your blog. Please know I am upholding you and your animal friends and neighbors. Extraordinary pictures and words that you write!
Linda in Idaho
So glad you and your boys are safe. Hoping your beautiful house and garden will be ok. You have all our best wishes for a quick return home.
Wow, relieved to read your post. I was reserved to be part of the Nuk Tessli trip this year with you as our guide. I have been worried about you, your pets, and your home you worked so hard for. Sure hope the fire misses you and all your friends and neighbors.
Our province is being tested to the limit. What a summer to remember. The really good part I see is all the wonderful people pulling together to help each other. There are so many heroic stories out there of animal rescues too. Very emotional time.
Stay safe Chris. As usual you put up some amazing pictures. Let us all know when this are really safe again.
One hell of a story!
We have so much rain here; I’m sure you (and everyone else in fire country) wouldn’t mind it right now.
Certainly hope it doesn’t last as long as that one in Ft. McMurray of last year.
Glad to hear you are safe.
Hope your home survives unscathed.
Hi Chris, this shocked me, I didn´t even have breakfast, because I had to read your blog- holy smoke!!! And WL evacuated!!! I think of all the animals out there, wildlife, cows…
Thank goodness, you were able to get your dogs and secure some of your belongings!
It´s one thing, to write and read about it later, but to be in the middle of uncertainty, not knowing what is really going on, which way to turn, what to do first… good thing, your friend was there, also having some fire fighting experience!!! You are a tough cooky and I admire you and all the people, who help neighbors, digging fire breaks, and so on, and to think of all the firefighters and organizers. I wish for a lot of rain and hardly any wind to you and the region! My thoughts are with you!!! Alice
Good to hear that you’re ok, thinking of you and all the others in the Kleena Kleene area a lot…
Thinking about you every day and keeping my fingers crossed that your story has a happy ending and soon. And you are right: you are in a good spot compared to those evacuees that are staying in parking lots or lost their homes. It’s all a matter of perspective. Good you are able to be thankful despite the stressful circumstances.
Stay safe, Chris. I am so saddened for my friends in Ashcroft and Cache Creek who lost everything. I am now living on Vancouver Island.
Scary stuff, fires. I was visiting Naples, Florida this past March when fires hit. Had to stay inside due to smoke. That was enough for me -no evacuations. You do well to keep your wits about you with such calm…and still post with pics!
Thinking of you,
Glad to hear you are safe and sound. Fire is so very finite with “stuff” and stirs up so many emotions. I hope you, the dogs and your friends and neighbours all come through this event unscathed.
So relieved to hear from you. Bella coola, good choice. We are so frightened for all,people property and livestock. Sure hope all are safe and saved.
I’m so glad to see your post! I’ve been checking every day to see how things were going with you. We’ve never met or spoken, but I really enjoy your books and you’ve been an inspiration to my husband and I. Good luck, and I dearly hope your beautiful home that you’ve worked so hard on is spared!
So glad to see your post Chris! I have been wondering how you were making out. So glad that you and your dogs are safe.
You’ve worked so hard on your home.
I hope all will be well for you.
I’m so sorry Chris about the fires in your area, I saw on the news tonight that the majority of states in the western part of the U.S. have major fires going on in them. We are so fortunate here in the northeast – that forest fires are almost unheard of.
We are also getting some nice rains at the present time. I’m sure the farmers would like some drier weather so they can harvest their hay, but most of the gardens are doing splendid.
I was surprised when you told of your friend losing her cabin even though it was located on an island in the lake.
The photos of the black smoke, the fires and the steam clouds look very ominous. I do hope things clear up for you soon and you can get back to your cabin, your garden and your normal life …. which is anything but normal!