I was at work the day the fires broke out. When the evacuation alerts were given, I packed up our insurance papers, passports etc., just in case, but I didn’t put them in the car. I was scared to leave them in the vehicle, sometimes we have a lot of theft in town, so I was scared to have my belongings in the car while at work.
The streets were very quiet as everyone watching billowing clouds increase around us.
I remember looking out towards our home in Commodore Cres. And seeing the billowing smoke of the Wildwood fire. I headed home.
Commodore crescent felt like no mans land in some ways, and I’m sure Pine valley did too, and maybe Fox Mountain. I’m not even sure if we ever were actually evacuated. We would hear news of Wildwood and what was happening there, and we would hear news of Williams Lake. But, here we were behind the hill in front of us were the White Lake fires raging up from the Rudy Johnson bridge and behind us across the highway, we knew the Fox Mountain/ Wildwood fires were burning.
We had brought our mother in law out to our place after registering at the high school, just in case. We were her ride out of town. My father in law and his wife had already headed north. Everyday, I packed up my mother in law and dog and a bag of the most important papers, I would drop her at her apartment, and lucky my employer let me bring the dog to work. So, everything came into the store with me. If we had to evacuate that day, I wouldn’t have had clothes etc. But the dog and my mother in law would be safe.
My husband was on dayshift at Gibraltar, when he arrived home at two in the afternoon. They had been told that the highway was going to be closed at Wildwood and if they wanted to be with their families they needed to go home. We were confused, we thought our escape route was going to be north. We’d made arrangements to stay with our son in Grande Prairie. The next morning, we had made arrangements as Jim left again for work, if we were evacuated I would take his mom and the dog and drive south around, through Little Fort, through Prince George and meet him in Quesnel.
Thank goodness his holidays would start the next day. Jim made it home at his usual time that day. I’m not sure if it was the next day or two days, there was talk on social media that the town was going to be evacuated. We had the radio on and constantly listened to what was being said. I think by this point Wildwood was already evacuated. No mention ever of Commodore or Pine Valley. We decided when the town was told to evacuate we would too.
I felt really nervous, I felt we should pack the car. So we did, everything we could cram into my little Toyota Matrix. It was going to carry 3 adults and a golden retriever and small cases for the three of us. It was cozy. I made supper early, we ate and just as we finished eating the radio announcement came on. Williams Lake was being evacuated, through Hwy 97 south. We threw the pots into a sink full of water and we left.
We actually made a fast get away, I think we were on the road by 5:30. We joined the masses of vehicles at the “y”, all heading south. I was so glad that we had kept the car topped up with gas. No need to stop. We were amazed to see all the police, at all the roads along the way. The lovely people at Lac La Hache waving to us. The only way out was through Little Fort. When we reached that junction, we were not given a choice we were told we were going to Kamloops. A quick call to our son and daughter in law could we please stay there.
We went to the first location we were told that we had to register at, but they’d changed the venue, luckily there was a gentleman cleaning up that directed us to the Shaw centre to check in. We arrived at 11:30 pm…a 6 hour drive. The row of tail lights in the front of us. And behind us car after car.
Check in was simple. They were very well organized, had us processed quickly, we arrived at my sons about an hour later.
Our time in a Kamloops, other then the worry of if our house was wonderful. The people of Kamloops were very kind. We were incredibly lucky that we had family to stay with.
The smoke in Kamloops some days was horrendous.
We checked with our insurance agency as suggested and found that our insurance on our house was not what we thought. We were surprised that at some point our insurance company had lost the basement in our home. So, of course we had the unpleasant surprise of having to pay our insurance company to add our basement. There was some anxiousness as we waited for them to decide if they were going to allow it, and for them to decide if it caught on fire were we covered. It was eventually decided we were.
My experience with the Red Cross was frustrating. My mother in law, who we drove down and helped her with the process, received her monies very quickly. I stood in line repeatedly, but nothing was forthcoming. After we were allowed to come home, I stood in line again at Boitanio Mall. Three times I stood in line there, before I was finally received the monies promised. By that time it was principle I was fighting for. While we were away, we didn’t have access to those monies, as we bought extra pillows, things we didn’t have room to bring, and pay for the mess up in our insurance. Again, we were more fortunate then a lot. We weren’t broke, and we had credit cards.
We found the news from home was so inaccurate. The only one we truly trusted was a Dale Taylor from out local radio station. We appreciated his daily updates.
After being allowed to come home we waited two extra days to avoid the masses. We were shocked that within half an hour of arriving home the army was outside our home. They told us not to unpack. The white fire was closer now then it was when we left. I’m not exactly sure now, but I think it was 5 minutes to get out, if the winds blew our direction. Scared, lots of sleepless nights. The information for our area was again non existent. I was messaging our crd rep who would try to find information. We really didn’t understand why we were let back in.
Life slowly returned to normal, I couldn’t stand the grey I had painted my interior after all that smoke, that was quickly changed. I’m looking forward to camping this year something we’ve always enjoyed, but until now the least whiff of smoke and you are searching the sky for that billowing cloud. Thank you for letting me share my story.