Floods, fires and the future: How 3 communities are moving forward after climate disasters

·5 min read
Logan Lake, B.C., is blanketed in smoke as people work to get their livestock to safety. An evacuation order was issued Aug. 12, 2021 due to spreading wildfires. (Julie Smith - image credit)
Logan Lake, B.C., is blanketed in smoke as people work to get their livestock to safety. An evacuation order was issued Aug. 12, 2021 due to spreading wildfires. (Julie Smith - image credit)

Safety and stability were threatened over and over last summer as B.C. experienced wildfires and floods that destroyed communities and took lives.

And it's created a variety of reactions.

"There's really no wrong way to respond," said Kelsey Murrin, a registered clinical counsellor in Vancouver.

She said she's seeing more and more people dealing with trauma from extreme weather.

Three communities, Logan Lake, the Nicomen Indian Band and Spius Creek, were all impacted by climate disasters in 2021 but have had distinct responses and are moving forward in their own ways.

Logan Lake

Logan Lake Fire Chief Doug Wilson remembers like it was yesterday the Tremont Creek wildfire forcing his entire town from their homes. He and his team watched as flames drew near, and they mobilized to get around 2,000 residents to safety.

"We knew it was a matter of when it was going to hit, no longer if," he said.

Dozens of fire crews from B.C. and Alberta were called in to help battle the blaze. Sprinklers previously installed on the tops of homes were put to good use, misting the houses and preventing fire spread.

The town's emergency program co-ordinator, Chris Candy, says he still has flashbacks from the fire.

"The smell of smoke, I mean, it'll never be gone, but that's that's the way it is."

Not a single home was lost during that fire. Six days later, residents were allowed to return.

Doug Wilson
Doug Wilson

Many found their homes doused in red fire retardant, and to this day, some places still have a red tinge to them.

But Jean Finlay says it doesn't matter — her home is still there and her community is thriving.

"Everybody's just so grateful because they know what could have happened," said Finlay, who works for the District of Logan Lake.

"There aren't enough words to say how grateful we are."

Sarah Penton/CBC
Sarah Penton/CBC

Wilson said the town-wide sprinkler system continues to grow and by the end of 2022, half the homes will have sprinklers installed.

He feels hopeful about Logan Lake's future.

"I'm very confident that if anything struck again, similar to that situation, the outcome would be the same. We would be in good shape."

Spius Creek

Merritt, 48 kilometres south of Logan Lake, was hit by extreme weather twice last year: a wildfire lit up the Nicola Valley, and a few months later the city and surrounding areas were evacuated when catastrophic rainfall caused dangerous flooding.

In both cases, the Chivers family was in trouble.

The fires meant they had to evacuate their family ranch at Spius Creek, including livestock. When the rain came, the family home on the same property was all but washed away.

The house used to sit about 50 metres from the water's edge. Now, the river runs beneath the main home.

Sarah Penton/CBC
Sarah Penton/CBC

Adrian Chivers and his uncle Wade visit from the Lower Mainland on weekends and work bit by bit to try to repair the damage.

"Where do you start?" Chivers said. "I mean, this was all grass and beautiful structures … how do you fix it? You can't."

The Chivers have struggled to get answers and assistance from the government. The property wasn't insured and the future of their family home is uncertain.

They're frustrated.

"This is my grandma's life," Adrian Chivers said. "This is where she wakes up every day."

The future remains uncertain as they await word from different levels of government about how they are allowed to proceed.

"It's still up in the air, which is hard," Wade Chivers said.

Nicomen Indian Band

There's only one road in and out of the Nicomen Indian Band reserve, a steep, gravel road that meets up with a bridge, which was washed out by flooding in November, leaving the community cut off.

They had evacuated earlier that summer as the fire that destroyed Lytton neared and couldn't return until six weeks later. When the floods came, Chief Norman Drynock said his people, in particular some elders, didn't want to leave.

"Not knowing what could happen once we left, what we would be at the mercy of out there, whereas here we were in our own homes. We had water, we had electricity, and we had enough food to last for a while," he said.

Sarah Penton/CBC
Sarah Penton/CBC

Band member Holly Edwards said it was difficult because they were low on food, but she wouldn't want to be anywhere but where she is now: home.

"It's definitely part of you," she said. "You carry it with you. But nothing beats it when you're actually there because then you can smell the sage and you can taste the berries that we pick, and you see the pine trees and the fir trees."

Sarah Penton/CBC
Sarah Penton/CBC

Drynock says they're preparing ahead of the summer by making sure they have enough gas to use if they get cut off again, as well as a stockpile of food and other essential supplies.

He says he's proud of his community for getting through it and feels comfortable with whatever the future brings.

Edwards agrees and says First Nations people are adaptable, so they'll be able to withstand whatever mother nature brings.

"I kind of think it's going to be all right," she said.

"Yeah, we've lived through some traumatic events, but so did our ancestors. Our ancestors survived a lot of different things. And we're going to survive a lot of different things."

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