“Have you ever been forced to leave your home because of a threatening fire?” asked my brother Danny in a hurried call last January. Danny lives south of Calgary on what British Columbians would call the bald prairie. Before I could visualize anything remotely combustible there in the middle of winter, he blurted, “It was a grass fire that started when a hydro pole blew over—and it headed straight for us.”
Inconceivably, the fire consumed three homes that day. One of them was his. My son Justin, who was living with Danny at the time, lost practically all of his possessions.
Eight months later, from downtown Peachland, I spotted smoke. Instinctively, we knew to hurry home and pack up, our urgency reinforced moments later by a call from friends who were travelling along the Connector and saw the flames heading toward our neighbourhood.
I witnessed the horror and reality of the 2003 fire and was later caught on the Kelowna side when the Glenrosa fire displaced many. Being from Alberta, I know the power of wind and believe me, that wind was mighty fierce and blowing the fire directly our way.
Empty-nesters and pet-free, our time packing up was a lot easier than most. As creative-types, our precious cargo was my musical and her novel. Photo albums, artwork and mementos were stuffed in with the necessities of passports and tax returns. We hastily packed a few clothes, holding out hope that our rapid departure would only bring the inconvenience of a few days living out of a suitcase. Alas, I did forget my socks.
The Peachland fire is a story of both what did and what did not happen. Late that night, the temperature dropped, the rain came, and the wind shifted, blowing the fire back upon itself and ultimately over to the next hill. There, thankfully, it met with the Ponderosa Golf Course. Under construction, the course provided a firebreak, easy access for fire crews and, most importantly, little fuel for the hungry flames.
We can all be very grateful to and take a big lesson from the Ponderosa management. Their fuel mitigation efforts, thinning trees and cleaning out the dry undergrowth, saved Peachland.
I am both astounded and grateful for the firefighters’ skill as they assaulted that blaze from ground and air, and contained it so quickly. My thanks extends beyond the crews to the many civic leaders and professionals who left their work and families to staff the Emergency Operations Centre, and who, together with countless volunteers, ensured the safe evacuation of 1,550 residents and a coordinated effort to fight the fire.
Thanks also to the many friends who offered and those that did open their home to us that night.
My colleagues in the news media also deserve kudos. They were on site and on air providing essential updates and underscoring the invaluable role they play in our society. As we watched and waited to see if our home would be taken, we were reminded by friends and family that what was important was that we were safe.
My heart goes out to those who did lose their homes, but we might all take comfort in the knowledge that what truly matters are not the things you can pack in a box.