FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — While Environment Canada is investigating the possibility that a tornado swept through the Fort St. John area in northern B.C. last week, Clarence Apsassin says he knows what he saw.
Apsassin was outside his home on the Blueberry River First Nation Wednesday and watched as the sky turned black, the wind roared and then a funnel cloud come down about 45 metres from him.
"It was making that sound, just like 'Twister,' that movie. It started off calm, then it hailed for about five seconds, that stopped and it got really calm and about 10 seconds after that, boom, it just hit us," he said in an interview on Monday.
"The sky was black and reddish and lightning. My god, it was crazy."
He said sheds and trees on the reserve were flattened, and roof tiles and some roofs are gone.
A 12-metre trailer where his son and his family were about to go to sleep was reduced to rubble.
"I'm so happy they didn't go into the trailer," Apsassin said.
Doug Lundquist, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the powerful system started above the wildfires in the Interior last week, on the same day much of the town of Lytton was destroyed by a fire.
Lundquist said the thunderstorm created severe winds around Fort St. John, but it’s unclear yet if a tornado was responsible for the damage.
"So, we're not 100 per cent sure if it's straight-line winds or a tornado. It's possible it could be a tornado," he said. "Regardless, the winds were well over 100 kilometres per hour, I think over 110 was reported on one location that we have information on."
It may take another week before they confirm the tornado, he said, adding they haven't seen photos that would prove it's a twister.
Lundquist said they will look for rotation in the damage to indicate a tornado tore through.
The heat from the wildfires on that day in the Interior made the updraft stronger, forming pirocumulus clouds, prompting the severe thunderstorms, he said.
Apsassin said the damage on the reserve is extensive and will be expensive to fix.
Thousands in and around Fort St. John were left without power because of the storm and downed trees last week.
The Peace River Regional District posted on its website that those who were affected by the storm can call the district for assistance.
No one from the district was available for an interview and it's unclear how many homes or buildings were damaged or destroyed.
Apsassin said the garage of his home was torn off, and while the roof lifted several centimetres, it fell back into place after the winds passed.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2021.
The Canadian Press