Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Through fire and water

We had 29 major fires going when I was ready to pack the car Sunday night, so I checked the highway report before I took the suitcase out. There was a problem; the highway that I would have to take, the only road west, was closed because of fire. I unpacked a few things and stayed home.

Monday morning, an update announced a detour, with a flagger at either end. This, I could handle; I loaded the car and started off.

Usually, when I get past Hope, at the end of the Fraser Valley, I notice a difference in the air. Vancouver smog lifts and disappears. Not this time; up into the mountains, over the Coquihalla highway, the sky was grey and distant hills were hidden behind smoky clouds. Over the summit, the smoke thickened and became acrid, choking. The fire was far to the west, beyond the mountains, across the river; I hadn''t expected it to be a problem on this highway.

Smoke over the green Nicola Valley

Sunshine forcing its way through the smoke

Near Williams Lake, the sun turned blood red, blazing through the smoke. Ahead was another source of redness: under a billowing black cloud, a lick of flame along the hill tops.

Fire ahead. South of Lac La Hache

I had thought of staying over in Williams Lake, but the smoke was too thick; I took the Bella Coola highway west, barely stopping for gas. To  my left and to my right, the hills smoked. Night fell; the blackest night I have ever seen on the Chilcotin, where usually the northern sky sends up a faint shimmer behind the treetops, even on moonless nights, and where the stars hang overhead, almost close enough to touch. Not this night; it was like driving through black velvet, the world reduced to the cone of my headlights, where moths and flies risked and lost their lives. At intervals I passed a homestead with one or two lights still burning; they were quickly swallowed up in the smoke. And every few turns of the road, I saw a dull red glow to the south.

Fire beyond the hills

Lee's Corners, where I had hoped to find shelter, was closed. A tall flame burned on the hill behind. I phoned Laurie from the pay phone, since there's no cell coverage on the road. (It was just about 10 PM.) I drove on into the night. In Alexis Creek, a policeman told me the road was open again; I could go straight through to Tatla Lake.

Straight through the fire, that was; on either side of the road for miles, large fires burned, some feeding on mounded piles of slash, pushed away from the trees by firefighters, some crawling along the ground from tree to tree to tree, still untamed. The nearest fires were close enough to toss a stone from the road into.

Halfway to Tatla Lake, it started to rain. Lightning had been flashing off and on all night, but now the storm broke. The water came down in bucket-loads. I couldn't see the road, and had to creep along, following the line of grass at the edge. (In Nimpo Lake, to the east, campsites were flooded, roofs sprung leaks, hail battered tents.) I crawled into Tatla at 1 AM, found the motel open, had to describe my journey to the men playing poker in the common room, and holed up for the night.

In the morning, the air was clear and fresh, the sky blue, clouds white. My car, however smelled of smoke.

Tatla Lake, from Graham's Inn, where I had breakfast.

Next; more about forest fires; what we do about them, and some - yes - benefits.


  1. Quite the adventure. I've never been that close to a wildfire.

  2. What an adventure ... you brave soul you. It was very heavy with smoke earlier today but it has lifted somewhat at the moment. Stings the eyes and catches in the throat. Fortunately, we had just finished our early morning walk before it settled in.

    D always meant to take me to Bella Coola ... but we never got around to it! Famous last words. We were also going to take a trip to the north country in the fall ... guess it ain't gonna happen ... at least not this year!

    I see you take the Coq when you head north. The Canyon is really improved over the years you know! Do you come through Cache Creek or Little Fort? We prefer the Little Fort way ... very scenic.

    Have a good visit!

  3. What a journey. My goodness. The photos are magnificent. Glad you made some progress. Safe trip home.


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