I CAN’T THINK of Monte Lake without thinking of the log boom.
Wouldn’t want to slip between the logs, my mother said as we drove past. You might not find your way back up. It was one of those comments that sticks with a boy.
Also, a couple of pretty sisters from Monte Lake rode my school bus. The farm kids always did their homework on the bus, having risen at crack-of-dawn o’clock to get their chores done prior to a trip that took the best part of an hour.
All of which is a long way around to saying how strange it was to wake up Friday to the news that wildfire had swept through Monte Lake, reportedly destroying the general store and several homes.
Down here on the coast we were in the sunshine, dancing around with the Olympians who had just won soccer gold, and up in the Interior people had lost their homes, or were packing up just in case, or were wondering where they could find a trailer to haul their horses, or … And oh, by the way, they’ve been breathing smoke since Lytton. They’ve seen ash fall like rain. (Remember rain?)
Steve Pringle, one of the veterans of that long-ago school bus, figures he got off easy when the White Rock Lake fire suddenly raced past Westwold en route to Monte Lake, just down Highway 97. They say that after moving slowly over the past couple of weeks, the fire advanced an incredible 18 kilometres in just eight hours Thursday night.
Pringle owns a farm right across the highway from the Westwold school where the firefighters set up camp. He has just over 300 acres, some of it covered in the stubble from winter wheat but about 70 acres in grass crops.
With few trees bordering his property, he believed the only real threat would be from embers blowing into the fields, so he turned his irrigation system on the dry grass. That worked fine until the wildfire burned down some power poles, killing the electricity to his pumps (and everything else in the area). All he can do now is stay out of the way and hope the fire doesn’t reverse course and come back toward the farm.
At least, he said, he didn’t have to worry about rounding up livestock other than the cats he managed to cage. Most of his neighbours acted early in moving their critters to friends’ farms in places like nearby Falkland, but now some are finding the fire has ranged so far that they’re having to relocate them again. The highway is closed, but some people are being allowed through to feed stranded animals.
Here on the Island, safely distanced from the trouble, we nod sympathetically when we hear about such things, but in truth they feel like someone else’s reality. There’s always been a disconnect between the coast, particularly the golden triangle bordered by Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria, and the rest of B.C., the land beyond Hope.
It’s not until we wake up one morning to our own smokepocalypse, to a spooky orange sky torn from the pages of Dune, that it occurs that maybe we really should take this pesky global warming thing more seriously. Alas, waiting until your own eyes are watering is like thinking of grocery shopping only when you’re hungry.
So, here’s the reminder: yes, fires ravage the Interior every year, but they didn’t use to see smoke clogging the valleys for weeks on end, as has been the norm in the past few years. Historic communities like Lytton, Monte Lake and Westwold (supposedly Dwight Eisenhower played polo in the latter as part of a touring U.S. Army team in the early part of the 20th century) managed to grow old without being overrun by walls of flame.
“We know we’re on the front lines of climate change history right now,” Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said Friday in talking about the wildfires.
That might be true, but some of us are in the rear echelon, feeling safer than we should.