British Columbia in flames: stories from a blazing summer

British Columbia in flames: stories from a blazing summer

by Claudia Cornwall

Harbour Publishing Ltd | 2020 | 289 pages

Fires have always been an integral part and process of British Columbia’s forests for as long as mankind has occupied and traversed the land. The large majority have been ‘natural’ wildfires started by lightning or human design (and sometimes carelessness). An earlier post on this website summarizes many decades of fire data for B.C.

There are two major components to a large forest fire. On one hand there is the forest itself as defined by species composition, age, management status and susceptibility to fire as affected by climate and weather patterns. On the other hand there is the human element comprised of the business interests which are supplied by the forest resource, the communities which depend on forests for their economy and livelihood, and also the wider population which seeks nature -based recreation and inspiration.

North Vancouver-based writer and journalist Claudia Cornwall was inspired to write British Columbia in Flames: Stories from a Blazing Summer after a 2017 gigantic forest fire 100 kilometers long by 70 kilometers wide (twice the size of Prince Edward Island) engulfed the Cariboo region, destroying 1.3% of British Columbian forests. For the author the situation became personal when the fires threatened a cabin in the Interlakes Area that had been in her husband’s family for 60 years.

Cornwall has taken the narrative behind the headlines by collecting the human stories behind the devastation. She recalls in the early pages that as she started following the story she realized the impacts went way beyond just herself. She found herself wanting to see the fire from other points of view – First Nations, the RCMP, firefighters, ranchers, cottagers, and “everybody else.” Developing the story eventually led her to conduct more than 50 hours of interviews across nine communities in the Cariboo. Along the way she spoke to ranchers, cottagers, Indigenous residents, RCMP officers, evacuees, store and resort owners, search and rescue volunteers, firefighters and local government officials. The plethora of eyewitnesses recounted tales of loss, pugnacious defiance, resilience and survival.

The author expresses the hope that readers come away with a deeper appreciation of B.C.’s forests and the surrounding communities that can rise and will to the occasion. “Forests are the lifeblood of many of the communities in the Interior, and there is a resource of human capital that can be applied to the fire problem if and when demanded”.

Reviewed by Stan Hirst, 2019

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