EVACUATION ORDER HOUSE ARREST
23 AUGUST 2017
I have been under virtual house arrest, due to a fire-induced Evacuation Order, for 6 and a half weeks at Kleena Kleene in the central Chilcotin. (Half way between Williams Lake and Bella Coola.)
Today there is a meeting addressing this issue and several others related to our military lockdown (which both police and army are enforcing) at the community of Nimpo Lake. Nimpo is 40 km north along Highway 20 and is currently under Evacuation Alert. I have been trying every which way to get a permit to drive to this meeting, but keep hitting the same response. “If you live in an area under Evacuation Order and leave it, you will not be allowed home.”
Kleena Kleene is a sparsely populated area. Straggled along a distance of 20 km there are probably no more than 25 permanent residents, with a few summer cabins here and there. As far as I know all the permanents have stayed home. One official line was: “in all fairness to your neighbours we can’t give you a permit.” But all my neighbours have permits. They are either ranchers or own heavy machinery with which they are working the fires.
Sure, I could have left, and then I could have had freedom to go anywhere – except home. I wouldn’t even have had to stay at an emergency shelter as I have had several offers of cabins all over the province. My main reason for being home is my garden. If I was not home to tend it, it would die. I am not particularly keen on gardening – but I am on eating the produce. I have food sensitivities that severely limit what I can eat from the store at Nimpo (which I now can no longer get to anyway.) I order some foodstuff on line but in this period of time there has been only one mail delivery at my local post office, during a brief window when the area was upgraded to Evacuation Alert. Fortunately I am used to living far from city centres and am well stocked up – although have now run out of a few specialized items that I normally rely on, like organic nuts and miso. Without the garden I would be in dire straits indeed.
This is an extremely dry area with a very short growing season. I have a well but it is limited; I cannot simply turn on the tap and leave, as the well would run dry very quickly and probably wreck the very expensive, deep-water pump to boot. I must ration the water carefully; ergo I have to be here or at least be able to come back here frequently.
At times, the fire has been extremely dangerous. I have been terrified and have had my vehicle packed and been ready to go within minutes. Then the fire calms down and I cautiously unpack various items as I need them again. Nothing is put away. Some containers stay in the van; others are piled on the floor, ready to throw together and pack again. At other times, the smoke has been so bad I was seriously concerned about my health. I would have been out of here like a shot – IF I had received permission to return home during the fire’s quiet periods and tend to my garden. The CRD’s mantra is that the Evacuation Order status is to preserve life first and property second. But by making such rigid rules, they are in fact encouraging people to hang on when it is no longer safe and this endangering life and health.
I have been in this country for 40 years. I am well used to weather patterns and how fires behave. I have even been evacuated two other times due to fires although on both those occasions I was away for only ten days. Official fire information has been pathetic and often out of date. But I have been a weather watcher since childhood, I have a lot of experience of local conditions, and by monitoring forecasts and heat sensor sites on the Internet I can piece everything together. This way Ihave a pretty good idea as to what is happening, even when the smoke is too thick to see anything. Officialdom relies on computer predictions of fire and weather. Mountains often change these patterns drastically. Long-term locals can interpret on-line sites much more effectively than someone, who cannot even see the sky, sitting in a city hundreds of kilometres away.
Living here is not the same as being in a city. City folk cannot function without hydro power. They cannot communicate, buy things, get water, keep their fridges and freezers going, or even flush toilets. People out here have long been used to road closures due fire, floods, and snow, and are used to being self-reliant. (I happen to be on solar power, and have a pit toilet, we all have generators.) People whom I consider to be my neighbours might live up to two hours’ drive away, but the further you are away from neighbours, the more you are in tune with their problems and their needs. People who live in geographically scattered communities are in in effect very close and supportive of one another. All the firefighters I have met have been amazed how we all know each other.
Travelling through an Evacuation Order zone seems to be no problem. Even tourists are being allowed in so that they can go fishing in Bella Coola. One of the arguments in preventing residents to return home is the worry about looting. Why on earth would residents loot? What is to stop any stranger who has a permit to drive through the area to loot anywhere he or she wants?