British Columbia Communities Threatened By Wildfires

By Cam Martin

The heat this summer has not only caused discomfort for those without air conditioning, it has also set the stage for many forest fires. Currently, there are more than 400 active forest fires in British Columbia. These fires have caused extensive damage to homes and communities, resulting in hundreds of displaced families. Since April 1, there have been 1,272 wildfires in BC, and the fires have burned a total of 933 square kilometres.

The Tl’etinqox community near Alexis creek in central British Columbia is at the very heart of the largest and most severe wildfires of 2010. An evacuation order was recently issued for the small community, though some people stayed to keep watch over their property and to answer the phones at the government office. Over 150 members have been moved about 80 kilometres east to Williams Lake.

This is not the only wildfire in Tl’etinqox traditional territories. A fire at Dog Creek, west of 100 Mile House, scorched an estimated 6,600 hectares by Friday morning. Several residents in the area remained under an evacuation order, while others were put on alert. Officials said the fire was about 20% contained, with more than 100 firefighters and six helicopters working to battle the blaze. At Meldrum Creek near Williams Lake, fires burning in the area covered more than 18,000 hectares combined. Several residents remained under an evacuation order. More than 200 firefighters and 12 helicopters were on scene. In Lillooet, to the south, the Jade Mountain wildfire has burned since July 21 and has grown to an estimated 1,900 hectares. Officials said the fire was 15% contained.

The Tl’etinqox community members and their chief are concerned with the lack of organized initiative and dismissive communication from Health Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. The Tl’etinqox elders believe the serious risk to their health is not being taken into consideration. Chief Joe Alphonse said the community has asked for help, but Health Canada and the Department of Indian Affairs said that they were still “assessing” the situation. It is precisely this kind of apathy that frustrates the Tl’etinqox community. Chief Joe Alphonse argues, “These government agencies, these bureaucrats that live in Vancouver need to know and appreciate the situation and understand the challenges we have living in places like this. To be sitting there and telling us they’re doing their assessment…What are they assessing, a piece of paper?”

One of the elders, Alexis Stump, said that he’s planning to leave the area because he’s concerned for his lungs and “there are people who were tasting smoke in their throats.” Some of the elders do not want to be displaced, and they are relying on the firefighters to keep the fires from taking their homes. Councilor Sherry Stump says, “There are a lot of members that don’t want to leave home. They are afraid for their homes, and even though the heavy smoke is a serious health issue, they are refusing to leave.”

British Columbia firefighters have been getting help from out of the province and even out of the country. More than 200 fire safety personnel from Alberta, Ontario, and Washington State have arrived to help our local forces fight the fires. They will join over 2,000 fire fighters currently battling the fires engulfing the province. Hopefully, their efforts will help save the community of Alexis creek and spare its members any more adverse health effects as the summer heat rages on.