We are prisoners of the fire dragon. He is holding us in thrall with his smoke. Apart from the few hours when the fire erupted on August 5th, we have been in this twilight zone for a week now. In the above picture I am standing on my deck looking across my property – the boundary is pretty much where the taller trees start across the meadow. I calculate, therefore, that I can see about 300 m. Looking towards the mountains, I cannot even make out the cottonwoods that line the river. They are less than a km away.
I have become an Internet junkie. First thing in the morning, I switch on the computer and check the fire sites. Same after breakfast, and at noon, again in the afternoon, and before I go to bed. I am like a kid with an I-phone. I am hooked to the soap opera of the fires.
Google Earth with the fire overlay is updated every 15 minutes so always a good source of up-to-date info. The American Modis heat-detection site is also good. I check weather forecasts and the three webcams in the west Chilcotin (Anahim Lake, Heckman Pass at the top of the Bella Coola Hill, and Hagensborg in the Bella Coola Valley. I sometimes check the BC Forest service sites, but their info is so out of date that I usually learn nothing from them. I have recently been sent a link to a fascinating new site called Windfinder. Safari doesn’t handle the animated program – for that you must use Firefox. Make sure the “particles” are activated.This is a new colour scheme to learn. The colours are nothing to do with temperature, but with wind speed. When it is activated, all these streaks streaks swim around like little sperm. You can zoom in and out and see the great swirls over the ocean. Right now most of the Americas and Russia are this pinky mauve which indicates very light winds. It is mesmerizing to look at. Like a TV program. The pinkest spot in the right centre of the picture is Kleena Kleene.
It is updated every 3 hours. To get a more immediate reading of the wind speed and direction, I erected a slightly less high-tech device: a piece of flagging tape tied to a stick.it is extremely sensitive. This puff of air is barely strong enough to move the grasses.
Kleena Kleene is still under evacuation order, and I am still home. Other residents have been creeping back while the fire dragon is resting, but we feel like little mice, sticking our noses cautiously out of our holes, all senses alert, ready to jump back to safety.
Having got that off my chest, I remind myself that in many cities of the world, this atmosphere is normal. Even Williams Lake used to be like this when the mills still had the old beehive burners. Moreover, the air in some of these cities is not just full of particles, but toxic chemicals as well. The smoke and helicopters (on the rare occasions that I have heard them this last week – the smoke has mostly been too thick for flying) have often been compared to a war zone. But there is one very big difference. Our helicopters are friendly.
I don’t do well with gloom. Usually it is winter overcast that I complain about. Endless greyness drags me down. This greyness has a brown tinge. I grumbled about it to a Vancouver friend who phoned and said that down there, the light was eerie orange as if that was special to their area. Our smoke light is orange, too – when the smoke is thin enough to allow the sunlight through. But when it is thick, it is brown.
Yesterday, I saw faint shadows.The smoke thinned enough for me to pick out the internet tower 2 km away.Even when there are no shadows, the sun in the sky in the middle of the day is too bright to look at and this is keeping my solar panels charged so that at least is OK. Last weekend, the promise of showers appeared briefly on the weather forecast. It was so dark in the morning I wondered if clouds were building up behind the smoke. But the sun, which cannot penetrate the smoke near ground level, eventually emerged, already quite high in the sky. There was not even a hint of rain.I no longer get excited at this anaemic red balloon floating in the murk. It is old hat. The full moon came and went, and it, too, was round and red, but did not give out enough light for me to photograph it. In any case, you would not have seen any difference to the sun photos.
Another friend said she could smell smoke in the gulf islands (west of Vancouver). She commented that it must be much worse for us. But in fact I rarely smell it. One’s olfactory sense rapidly ignores persistent smells. It is a defence thing so that you can be aware of new ones.
One would think that this smoke would drive away the bugs. When it’s very thick, there aren’t any. But after the morning coolness disappears, the blackflies love it. They are dissipated by clear sunshine but as soon as a haze of cloud or smoke dulls the sky they attack in full force.
The smoke also moderates temperature. The forecast has been regularly for 32C but we have had around 28, although when the smoke thinned enough to create shadows yesterday, it warmed to 30C. In previous summers, temps in the 30s would often mean frosts at night. But the smoke means our mornings are around 4 or 5C.
Like fog, the smoke also magnifies noise. I thought fog conducted noise due to the moisture in it, but as the smoke behaves the same way, there must be another scientific explanation. Day and night, heavy trucks going up and down Highway 20 (presumably carrying machinery) sound as if they are in my yard and I hear them for many kilometres on either side of my place.
Here is the evacuation map of my area.The pink is Kleena Kleene, the pale yellow to the right is Tatla Lake, and the big ochre area is Nimpo and Anahim Lakes. Highway 20 is the black line running north through the centre. The letters in the pink rectangle say Kleena Kleena Area#2 EVACUATION ORDER. My place is just above the first K of Kleena Kleena. If the inset on the left had not been superimposed, you would be able to see Nuk Tessli pretty much under the word: legend. They are not affected by the evacuation notices. Should Nimpo be ordered out, they would be able to escape by helicopter or plane from other bases – as long as they could fly. But no one is in any danger there.
We are still promised a drop in temperature and a few possible showers for this coming weekend. We are all aware that such a change can be preceded by strong winds and we are counting the hours to this time. Anahim and Nimpo Lakes are in direct line from the Precipice Fire although it is still a good distance away. Two of the Precipice residents are now surrounded by the fire. It is most active on the tops of the ridges around their place but here are smoulderings on either side of their road out. They are staying for their livestock and their market garden. Their house is in a good spot, well protected by sprinklers, the river, and some open meadows. Ground crews go in every day to maintain sprinklers or do small back-burns. Almost no aircraft work has been done as no one can fly.
Should the Precipice fire take off, Nimpo and Anahim Lakes will be put under evacuation order. Even if that is the case, I seriously doubt that any property will be damaged there – cooler weather is coming and hundreds of firefighters are in the area – but my pickup truck and trailer full of stuff was stored at Stewart’s Lodge. My friends from the Bella Coola valley offered to come up and take it down to their place. We met at Tweedsmuir Air/ Stewart’s Lodge.No flying today.My friends told me that, as they were driving up the Bella Coola Hill, they met a truck going down carrying a snowmobile. Hardly the weather for snow sports so no doubt it was someone else putting their gear in a safer place.
I didn’t expect this to be a very long post, but I have rambled on about the gloom a lot, so feel I should finish on a lighter note.
With such an enormous, cumbersome fire dragon to subdue, bureaucracy is bound to rear its ugly head. About 30 new firefighters drove into Nimpo Lake, many in uniform – the army had arrived. Arrangements had been made to put them up in a couple of resorts. They drove down into one of the yards and were welcomed by the resort owner, who directed them to their accommodation. But the boss said he had not yet received official confirmation that they could use the facilities. “Well,” said the resort owner. “The beds are waiting for you. I don’t care about the official word.” But the army boss said no. As a result, all 30 newcomers slept the night in their trucks.