By Dave Scott, Host, Spaced Out Radio
I’m sitting here, looking out the window today (July 6th), and looking back in time, as the rain continues to fall. It’s been falling for pretty much two and a half weeks. For most people, at the start of summer, they can’t handle the rain, but at this time of year, even as my lawn starts to look more like U.S. Open rough than fresh cut grass, I’m thankful for the rain. On July 5th of 2015, my family picked up and moved from the metro Vancouver area to a foreign town four hours north. No friends. No family. Just hope of an easier, safer life.
Two years ago, on July sixth, 2017, for my daytime job, I took one of my clients into town, where he noticed a plume of smoke coming from behind one of the town’s wood mills. The two mills in our community were the hub of the town. One mill, due to economics, recently closed, putting 160 workers in peril after losing their jobs due to the closure. It’s a big hit on a community of 2,500 people. But back on that day. It was a Thursday. It was around 11:00am when our forest started to burn. Within an hour, there were water bombers in the area. By 4pm, you could see towering walls of flames, up to 100-plus feet high coming over the mountain tops. I went on the air that night, from a different location, knowing at any time I’d have to rush home and save the pets.
The family was visiting family down on the coast, which meant it was just me and the dogs and cat hanging out up here. I went home that night watching the forest fires burn in the distance. The next morning, July 7, 2017, the air was starting to get thick of smoke, even though it was still blue sky. I went to work that morning, and the rumours were swirling that the fire was out of control, with zero percent containment. As well, it had changed direction over night and was heading towards my neighbourhood. At about 11:45 that morning, some of my colleagues who lived in my area were paying close attention, and we all decided to leave work and start getting ready for evacuation.
I called my friend Mike up. Told him what was happening. I went and picked him up. We raced to my home, and just unlocked the door when I got the most ominous text message I’d ever received. It was from my neighbour, Tony, who lived across the street. Tony was also a volunteer fire fighter in our area. The text message read, “Leave Now”!! That sinking feeling was all too real. So Mike and I started going room to room grabbing every valuable we owned. Friends of ours, Corey and Lana, just happened to be driving through town and stopped by without me knowing, asking if we needed a hand. They lived three hours north and were heading home when they heard about the evacuation order coming in. So for the next hour, we wandered through every room. Stuffing absolutely everything into two vehicles. Let me tell you something. If you’re in an area where natural disasters can happen, have a bug out room, just in case.
At that point once the vehicles were full, animals put into the vehicles, we got out. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew it wasn’t home. For the next 15 days, I stayed with friends up here. In total, as the fires raged and surrounded us, there were in total about 40-thousand people evacuated, including two towns. I’d never witnessed falling ash like snow. It was getting difficult to breathe with all of the smoke in the air. I was able to do the show from my friend’s house. I was able to give live Facebook updates as well, keeping people up to date with the fire situation and my health. I’ve never been to so many town meetings.
In that time of darkness though, I remember the good. People helping people. We were sitting in a restaurant, eating, when the owner came up and just gave us four jugs of milk, because we may need it. Pet food was free. Crates of water were everywhere, where the big companies would just drop it at a gas station, with a big sign saying “Help Yourself”. At the community halls, they were filled with everything from clothing and toys, to supplies like soap, toothpaste, shampoo, food. You name it, it was there. But going in there, although everything was free, as semi-trucks continued day and night to bring supplies for those of us in need, people made sure they only took what they needed. This also included pets. Dog food, cat food, fish food, hay for horses and cattle, all free. Everyone came together to make sure we were all safe. It was the best I’ve ever seen of humanity. People, whether friends or strangers would just be hugging, and crying together. The stress of it all was overwhelming. Every single one of us didn’t know what was happening, but we all knew we were in this together. We had each other’s backs.
The area was surrounded with military and RCMP members at every major intersection. Traffic stops became routine, to try and control people from the potential of hooligans and thieves from getting into houses of those who were evacuated. But they were great. They all knew we were hurting and scared. But at every traffic stop, we’d open our windows, show our identification, and then offer the officers anything we had. Food, drinks, water, anything to make sure they were okay as well. This was a team effort. One RCMP member told me, when I asked if he’d eaten today, replied, “Sir, I’m so stuffed, a lady just brought us pulled pork sandwiches with potatoes and gravy. I can’t eat another bite, but thank you.”
We did it together!
Coming home, the overflow of emotion was too much. I remember crying as we came into town and eventually drove into our drive way. Hours before, I drove all night to get to my family. At 2pm of July 22nd, we were allowed home. 15-days away. Home never felt so good. Later, we’d learn that a dozen homes were lost, where people lost everything. Through it all, the lessons I learned were invaluable. Have all of your belongings stored together. Have a list of what you’re grabbing, right down to your child’s favourite toy and blanket. Me, I forgot socks and underwear. And always have an escape plan or two.
So today, while for most of you is just a Saturday. To me, it’s a good day to enjoy the rain that’s been falling. The forests can’t burn because it’s just too damn wet outside. And today, I’m happy for that.