I’ll never forget the night I decided to stop in in Cawston to just “check things out” on my way home from working a 10-hour day in Penticton.
I’d gotten this sneaking suspicion there was a good chance something dramatic was going to happen with the Snowy Mountain fire that night. I’d been in constant contact with BC Wildfire and Keremeos fire chief Jordy Bosscha throughout the day. Nothing sticks out now that they said, but I just knew something was up, or rather, about to come down.
I’d wrapped up my day at the Penticton Western News a little later than normal trying to get some stories cleared out of the way. It was about 45 minutes to dark when I turned off Highway 3A onto Upper Bench Road and headed towards Cawston.
I turned at Coulthard and as I crested the hill I realized what I thought might happen was indeed happening. A powerful streak of fire was racing down the mountain in behind Cawston. An inversion and strong winds brought Snowy down the mountain at an unbelievable speed.
I was not in Southwestern Ontario anymore, Toto.
Of course you all know the rest of the story. The fire jumped the river. Keremeos firefighters along with BC personnel worked hard to get it out before it spread to nearby homes.
No structures were destroyed then, but Snowy went on to threaten homes, outbuildings, barns all the way east to outside of Chopaka. Several buildings were lost, but no homes that we know of were destroyed. The Snowy Mountain fire was only extinguished after fall rains and snow in high elevation put it out.
I will remember the night it came down the mountain always. The wind whipping through Cawston at crazy speeds, running into interesting and kind of crazy people trying to get closer to the fire to shoot their own videos and photos. Having to scramble around Cawston to get a wifi connection.
To date that night is only rivalled by a night not too long after when a building behind the Branding Iron burnt down. I was on the phone with Jordy at 4 a.m hearing the details. As he was answering the last of my questions, I heard his pager go off but couldn’t make out what was said.
He said he had to go and I laughed as I said, ‘I’m sure I’ll talk to you later.’
By the time I was finishing up the structure fire story and putting it online, reports were coming in that Highway 3 was closed near the Lower Similkameen Indian Band office.
Turns out grassfires had been started, human caused, and were threatening at least three homes.
I knew I wouldn’t make it anywhere near there, so I just had to wait till Jordy was free or BC Wildfire reps were awake, or DriveBC updated their website.
I did get a BC Wildfire media person around 6 a.m. that morning who knew nothing about it but promised to get back to me. She did awhile later and confirmed BC Wildfire personnel were pulled off Snowy to fight the grassfires.
Later that day I talked to someone who’s home almost burned down. Quick action of residents, friends and neighbours, the local department, saved the homes.
And just a few weeks later a truck caught fire along Highway 3 west of Keremeos almost at Hedley. It closed Highway 3 for several hours. I was again in Penticton, but this time with no way to get home. That evening was perhaps the scariest of this last fire season for me personally. Several of my friends or their parents lived in the area. The exact location of the fire was vague, how close it was to homes was not available and of course no one was answering their texts or FB messages.
As I sat an hour away at my desk at the Western News office, I felt scared. No information was coming in, no one was posting to social media, no real news was being given by BC Wildfire.
It was a long hour before I started getting some concrete answers and found out the fire was nowhere near structures and was put out quite promptly. Crews were just on scene checking hot spots, the highway would reopen soon.
Flooding isn’t as memorable as fires unless of course your house was flooded, I suspect. What I remember most about flooding is A) being trapped in Hedley when the highway was closed, and having to rely on all of you to send photos and information and B) the amazing community spirit of friends and neighbours helping each other. It still warms the heart.
All of those moments I’ve described made me realize the importance of the job we do here and the resilience of this community.
Happy New Year
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