Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Night My World Caught Fire

I remember that night as clearly as if I were living it right now. I had worked the late shift, back then I always worked the late shift. We were down most of our staff by closing that night, the phone calls from home, the evacuations, the fear has sent most of them home. We were left with a cosmetician, a pharmacist and me. I put the money in the safe, I locked the doors, we turned out the lights and we walked out the door.

I thought I knew what to expect, after all, this had been happening for more than a few days now, the air would be thick, the parking lot deserted, the night uncomfortably still. As I walked to my car, ash falling around me I inevitably turned my face in the direction of the chaos. It's like a car crash, nobody wants to see, but everyone slows down to look - the curiosity of human nature feeds our desire for the undesirable. But that night, it wasn't like it had been so many nights before, instead of a cloud of smoke it was a wall of flame, my stomach dropped to my feet and for a second I'm pretty sure my heart took a guest roll in River dance.

"This is as close to Hell as I ever want to come" I thought, that has to be what hell is like. The flames, the fear, the earie silence, where sound should erupt. I said that very thing to my Mom as I called to report in, striking fear into her heart too. I'd never seen anything like it before, the beauty of the flames a deceiving cover for their destructive intentions. I'd never seen the hand of God before that moment, but I believe I did then. The fight that raged on was terrifying.

The Pharm, was only a few Kilometers from the fire by then. The evacuations had moved down the hill, and the fire that had started so far away was knocking on our door. I didn't know if I'd have a job in the morning at the rate it was running. I lived across the water back then, I just had to get over the bridge and I'd be safe. If I could just get away, into the safety of my tiny suite I could pretend it wasn't happening, life could be normal.

It wasn't normal, it took me 2 hours to get out of the city that night and when I got home I could still see the flames. I could smell the smoke and I lay awake most of the night on my couch watching the local continuous coverage, feeling helpless. My landlord, a local firefighter was up there, he had a baby girl named Ashley who was 6 months old, she needed him, what if he didn't come home? My co-workers and friends had homes up there, many of which had already been lost, what if they never got control? As my over active imagination kicked into high gear, I felt the peace of God and exhaustion was over me and sleep finally game.

It's been 7 years since the Okanagan Mountain WildFire, and yet to me it feels like yesterday. Some of my co-workers did lose their homes in that fire, other's had their house be the only one left standing on an entire row of homes. There was no method to the fire's fury and being the last man standing left wounds almost more deep than if their home had been lost. The smell of forest fire smoke, still makes me sick to my stomach and the report of another BC wildfire leaves me angry.

I know fire comes from natural causes, I know lightening and such cause these fires but I also so know so many could be prevented. So many are human "error", neglect or intentionally caused. I understand the fascination with the flames, I really do, I looked into them and found their mesmerizing power. But I don't understand some one's need to see them, to cause great destruction...for what?

It's hot right now, parts of our province are in threat of a draught and that means fire risks are at an ultimate high. So be careful! If you smoke, first off - quit! I don't have to tell you what your doing to your insides, you know it, so don't. And secondly if you're ignoring my first request, be responsible, don't throw your butts (or I'll kick the one you sit on), no matches out the window etc. If you're camping and decide to have a fire - put it right out, move those ashes around and dose them with water, make sure there's nothing that could cause a stray ember to spark a flame. Just be smart, and check out the BC Forestry website to make sure you're even allowed to be burning.

That fire left burn marks on my heart, on the hearts of so many. Be responsible, be smart and be safe. And please remember if you see a fire in BC you can report it super easy from your cell phone *5555 program it in your address book and hang onto it. Then if you see something suspicious, even if you think someone else will phone, call it in. You never know when you'll save a tree or a life.


Tanya said...

That was the year I moved from Hope to Kamloops. Every day the air was so thick with smoke that I had to keep my window closed... Last I heard we have one fire currently in Kamloops, but it's not even July yet... I hope it never gets as bad as it did 7 years ago.

Angella said...

Having lived through a house fire, summers here in the Okanagan make me skeered.