BC Wildfires and the cast of a Jim Jarmusch film…

You may be wondering why the strange title for this post, well it’s been a strange couple of days…

On Sunday 9th July I left Vancouver with the intention of driving to Prince George, British Columbia.  However, my limited access to the news and the quickly evolving events in BC meant that I was unprepared for the chaos I was driving into.  High temperatures, arid landscapes, lightening storms and high winds had led to extensive outbreaks of wildfires across BC and lots of displaced people.  Unlike myself though, most of those on holiday managed not drive themselves into the centre of the worst affected areas.  In my defence this was due to no phone signal, limited information availlable and unclear road closure signs.  As a result I ended up slightly stuck at  Ashcroft,   a small town next to one of the worst fires, and just over from Cachecreek, from where everyone had been evacuated.  Due to the road being closed behind and ahead of me, my only other option would have been to take the one remaining open road west, but having already driven for 8 hours I didn’t like the idea of a night time drive, low on petrol, with wildfires all around.

So, I stopped.  And that’s where it all got more and more surreal.  Firstly there was the apocalyptic setting – dark skies and an orange setting sun caused by smoke clouds, ash in the air, no internet connections meaning that no card or cash machines were working, and no access to petrol as deliveries could not get through. At least this was better than the day before however when apparently all the power had been out as well.

Secondly, was the awful reality of the situation for many of those at the small hotel I ended up staying at – those unable to return to their homes in Cachecreek and wondering if the fire would reach the town leaving them with nothing to return to, as well as those from the nearby reservation who had already lost their homes to the fire.

Thirdly, was the fact that I had apparently wandered into some arthouse movie, a cross between Northern Exposure and a Jim Jarmusch film, populated by the most eccentric and eclectic cast of characters.

As I sat outside trying to get a signal for my phone I noticed the hotel maid wandering by, around 60 years old, decked out in cowboy boots, a mini dress, bright blue eyeshadow and a huge cowboy hat with feathers in it. We struck up a conversation in which she informed me that I could in fact play the guitar depsite me believing I couldn’t (I really can’t!).  She went on to suggest that together we could probably form a band and give ‘Little Big Town’ a run for their money.  She also mentioned our resemblance to the female duo in the band – here’s a quick photo below for those of you wondering…

I’m guessing I’m the blonde…

Next on scene was a young woman wearing thigh length boots and what appeared to be some kind of matching fluffy bra and shorts set.  I later learned she was a prostiute working from the hotel, the bit I never figured out though was where the cat she was carrying with her came into it…

To pass some time I also found myself playing a game of horseshoe – which basically involves throwing horseshoes at a stick to see how near you can get them.  My competitors were a young boy, who had fled his previous home with his mother so they could start a new life, only to be caught in the wildfires and stranded at the hotel; and a man evacuated from his home and anxiously awaiting news of which way the fires were spreading.

All these encounters set the tone for the evening, and as I watched the smoke clouds spread further across the night sky, I heard stories of infidelity, fear, despair, loss, and illness, as well as beautiful acts of kindness. I went to bed astounded at the tapestry of the human race, and priveliged to have yet again met so many interesting people. That being said I did also make sure to lock my door…

The next day, the sadness of the situation struck me once again as the day started under a thick layer of smoke and those without any place to go sat outside watching to see which way the wind may blow the fires.  I was struck again by people’s capacity for kindness when a woman, who just days before had lost her entire home, helped me to plan a route of the town to try and reach a petrol station and figure out if I could head further north.  I offered to stay and help if I could, but for those left it was now just a waiting game as they had nowhere else to go.  She seemed more concerned that I reach safety and drove ahead of me for a time to make sure I reached the right intersection.  As I left I drove for hours through the awful smog of the fires, thinking about those I had met and hoping that soon some kind of end will be in sight for them soon.