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Book reflects on Vernon, B.C.’s 2021 wildfire experience

Click to play video: 'Book reflects on Vernon area’s wildfire experience' Book reflects on Vernon area’s wildfire experience
Last summer the Vernon area was menaced by a series of wildfires. The flames displaced families, destroyed homes, and put the community on edge for weeks. Now a group of locals has compiled a book reflecting on the harrowing wildfire season. They hope it helps people remember what happened but also how the community came through a difficult time – Feb 21, 2022

Last summer the Vernon, B.C., area was threatened by a series of wildfires.

The flames displaced families, destroyed homes and put the community on edge for weeks.

Read more: British Columbia set to move to year-round BC Wildfire Service

Now a group of locals has compiled a book reflecting on the harrowing wildfire season.

They hope it helps people remember what happened but also how the community came through a difficult time.

Titled Smoke and Ash, the book includes prose, poems, art and photography from more than three dozen community members.

The project was the idea of Vernon Emergency Support Services (ESS) volunteer Virginia Dansereau, who helped staff the evacuee reception centre during the crisis.

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Read more: 2021 year in review: Summer of heat, wildfires, evacuation alerts, orders in B.C. Interior

After long days helping evacuees, she felt called to write about what the area was experiencing.

“What we did was work good 10-hour shifts at times,” recalled Dansereau.

“There were times when we’d wake up in the middle of the night and something would hit you. With me it was and hearing, ‘The heat, the heat, the heat,’ and so I got up and started writing.”

Dansereau ended up spearheading the book along with two fellow ESS volunteers who had also been writing about their experiences.

Read more: Wildfire: As Central Okanagan recovery moves towards rebuild, risks remain

One of those collaborators was Heather Clay.

Clay contributed a journal entry from the night of August 15 when the White Rock Lake wildfire flared up across the lake from Vernon, turning the sky dark, and she was called back to help evacuees.

Conditions looked so poor, Clay wasn’t sure if she should go back to the reception centre to help evacuees or proactively leave the area herself.

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“The sky went black first, ash was raining and we got called back to the reception center. It was just a poem about how difficult that was to make that decision to return, to go back into what was coming at us, and [thinking] maybe I should have been leaving,” Clay said.

Read more: White Rock Lake wildfire caused an estimated $77M in insurance damage

In the book, Clay writes that “smoke-blackened leaves and charred needles [rained] from an orange sky.”

“Fearing an apocalypse of heat and flame will blow across the lake, my right brain says, ‘Turn around, stay safe.’ But volunteers are arriving and evacuees will stream through the doors needing food and a place to sleep. Left brain says, ‘Go,'” Clay’s poem concludes.

Dozens of homes on the west side of Okanagan lake burnt down that night on Okanagan Indian Band land and in the Regional District of Central Okanagan, but the fire didn’t jump the lake to Vernon.

Clay is happy she opted to go back to the evacuee reception centre.

“I’m glad I went. Really I am. My thought was I wouldn’t be called in if it wasn’t safe,” Clay said.

“It was certainly worthwhile because the people that were from the westside were not in the same position. They had to leave so that was important that we were helping out in the Vernon area.”

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Read more: ‘Everything’s gone’: Westside Road evacuees return to properties

Now she is excited to be contributing to a project that will help commemorate the community’s experience.

“I think it is wonderful that we’ve got this opportunity to put these ideas together and help people reflect on what happened and how resilient we are as a community,” Clay said.

The book is almost ready to be printed.

The Dansereau and Clay plan to donate any funds raised through the sale to groups in the areas most impacted: the Okanagan Indian Band and North Westside Fire Rescue Society.

The organizers are collecting donations to pay $1,300 to print 300 copies.

They expect copies to be available in April.

Click to play video: 'North Westside residents move towards rebuilding after White Rock Lake wildfire' North Westside residents move towards rebuilding after White Rock Lake wildfire
North Westside residents move towards rebuilding after White Rock Lake wildfire – Feb 10, 2022

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