The second heat wave

Most of BC was subject to a second heat wave accompanied by very strong winds at times. Temperatures both on the Chilcotin and in the Bella Coola Valley reached 35C. We were well within the dangerous 30/30/30 zone – winds over 30kph, temps over 30C, and humidity less than 30%. Puntzi weather forecast recorded 18% a couple of times and, on the hottest day, it was only 14%. This was extremely scary. On August 12, most of the fires in British Columbia looked awful on the Google Earth fire mapping.

For the Big Stick Fire, the BC Wildfire Service quoted:

August 10.

East of highway 20, firefighters and heavy equipment are continuing to wrap and contain the excursions from a few days ago. Firefighters …. continue to make good progress … with the assistance of aviation resources. 

A drone scan occurred on the east side of Highway 20 last night ….. Firefighters will utilize the results of this heat scan to target hot spots. 

August 11

Yesterday, the fire experienced strong, 20km/hr winds with gusts to 30-40km/hr from the west. Due to the wind, there was increased fire behavior on some internal pockets of the fire. Airtankers did action the south section of the fire, ….. [ground] Crews and helicopters will be working this section today….

By now the “suspected cause” was recorded as being a person. I had thought it likely as there had been no lightning that night and it is an area where people can drive on logging roads. It could have been started in a number of ways – cigarette, spark from machinery, illegal camp fire, or, worse, even deliberately although that is less likely. But what a cost for the government and long term angst for the residents. Let me tell you, Covid isolation has nothing on this kind of mental health stress.

BC Wildfire Service did not update the info for the Big Stick Fire for three days. On August 14:

Crews have been conducting mop up operations on two areas of the fire that are holding the most heat. Helicopters were also working on those two areas, cooling hotspots by bucketing water to site. Crews continue to monitor the perimeter of the fire for any spots of concern. Fire activity picked up in the afternoon, due to the hot and dry weather in the area. All the activity was seen on the interior pockets of the fire. Helicopters actioned the areas of increased behavior to help cool down those areas. 

And on August 15:

….. The focus today will be on the south portion of the fire in order to prepare for a wind event that is expected to pass through the area.  (The south portion, of course, being the area closest to my place.)

But, amazingly, despite all this, by the end of the week, my area looked like this on Google Earth. Not a single square of any kind.

“Wind events” often occur when it cools down after a hot spell. This is what happened on August 18 2017, the most terrifying day of that fire for me. When this fire started, I had that date in my head – the worry about this fire would last until then, which was 6 weeks after it started. By late August, in this part of the world, the nights are longer and the mornings cooler. In 2017, the fire collapsed very quickly after August 18 (although work continued for weeks afterwards.)

The weather was now cooler and looked to stay that way for a while, and on Monday August 16, 2021, I finally gathered all my goods and chattels and drove up the Bella Coola Hill and back home. This time, to stay. It was exactly five weeks to the day that I evacuated; exactly five weeks less a day when the fire crossed highway 20 and cut off my access road.

There was a faint smoke haze everywhere, and a bit of old bonfire smell, but nothing untoward. Helicopters were rattling distantly. I looked forward to meeting the structural protection crew – but all the hoses had been removed. Including my own 5 hoses that I had laid out to water my place, and which had been incorporated into the sprinkler system. Trouble is, the garden had not been watered for a few days and was looking very parched. I needed at least 1 hose to do it.

So after unloading all the food into fridge and freezer, and uncoupling the trailer, I drove to a phone to try and find who to talk to. I was told to try Staging, which had been moved to a large gravel pit on the Big Stick Road after the fire had burned through there. A few trucks, 4 people, and a couple of helicopters were sitting around. But a (very tall) redshirted firefighter said he’d be able to see the right people that evening, and in the mean time lent me one of his hoses. Then I found that the pump I had near the water tanks wouldn’t start. It had been watered copiously as it was in sprinkler range, and was clogged with mud, so I expect that had something to do with it. So I unloaded the ATV and went down to the river to collect the pump I had there – only to find that a cat had been through to make a river crossing – early on judging by the dead small trees it had damaged – and the pump was at first nowhere to be seen. But the cat operator had carefully lifted everything out of the way and stuffed it in some bushes. So my poor garden managed to get a drink. (It is looking like a jungle!)

The following day, the structural protection crew came by with 5 hoses for me. I did not expect to see them so soon – and maybe not at all. But a different crew had taken up the hoses hence the mistake – and was very quickly rectified. Throughout the whole process, all the firefighters had been very respectful of our property. I had not been able to find the house key when I left, and Jade’s cabin was also unlocked. I even left the keys in my van. They had done their best to minimize damage – wrapping Jade’s goods stored under in an open shed with plastic before turning on the water.

The structural protection boss said he had come to my place in 2017. He could not believe that he had to come to the same place. As he left, I said I hoped I never saw him again!

The mice and packrats haven’t been quite so respectful of my property, though. That wonderful fresh country air of smoke and packrat. (I set a trap the first night and got one: so far there seems to be no other.) And today I started a mouse war and set 7 new traps for them. I had not cleaned house before I left, and on one of my visits I dealt with the blocked drain, so there is a great deal of work to do to get organized.

But I am home. In my own house, with my own views, and my own mosquitos. I could not have had a better place to stay while evacuated – I will be writing about that later. But nothing beats being home. So many people in the south of BC have lost their homes and are still under severe fire threat. Highways are closed everywhere. Jade is stuck down at the Coast trying to figure out if she can find a way through.

I could hear helicopters yesterday, and I couldn’t resist taking the ATV up the fire guard to see if I could see anything. Note the deep, deep dust. My driveway is like that, with big soft holes and ruts full of dust that are hard to drive through.

I passed a small slough, a green haven for ducks.

But then I came to where the cats had driven through a pond. I didn’t bother to investigate whether I could get through. I’ll explore it all properly another day.

Smoky, but safe.

6 thoughts on “The second heat wave”

  1. Chris, you are at home once again. Enjoy the peace and quiet, even if a few helicopters and fire fighters must stay nearby. We enjoy your ‘blogs’ very much.
    Here in B.C. we have never had a summer like this one — the heat, the drought, the fires and Covid. For you in the Chilcotin and the Interior of B.C. the concern and worry about the fires was so much worse than here on Vancouver Island. Take care and remain safe. You are in our thoughts and our prayers.

  2. I’m so glad you’re home safe and sound. Seems we’ve all jumped straight from spring into fire season and into fall. Such a non-summer.

    I escaped from Kamloops about August 15 because of the smoke. No fires too close to me but we were so buried in the stuff I found it impossible to stay any longer.

    I’ve done a lovely Island tour and will head back to Kamloops this weekend.

    Again, so glad you’re safe home.

    Cheers, Lindley

  3. Just got caught up on your last 3 blogs. Glad you are able to be back home! 5 weeks is a long time to be away. What a roller coaster ride for you and esp the southern part of the province. I have never seen another year quite like it! Crazy that you went through this twice, but it sure sounds like the structural protection crews did an amazing job (despite taking your hoses temporarily). Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again. We have a beautiful province, but if this keeps happening most years, there is going to be less and less to relish!

  4. I am following all your fire updates and really hoping you see the end of the fires soon. We are lucky that fires are not much of an issue here in Vermont but, of course, climate change might make me eat those words someday.

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