When wildfires emptied the area west of Williams Lake, B.C., they stayed behind – British Columbia

On July 15, just a few hours before officials handed down an evacuation order for Williams Lake, B.C., Jason McDonald left his house in the city.

He wasn’t fearful of the encroaching smoke or the fires burning nearby, but he was headed to his father’s property in Riske Creek, about 49 km southwest. The situation there was perilous. 

“We all came ripping out here to see if we could help,” said McDonald.

His dad’s acreage spans along Highway 20, one of the main arteries into Williams Lake. In addition to his house, there was a shop, a barn, and his business, Chilcotin Towing.  

As one fire moved through the dense, dry forest, others caught hold throughout the yard.

With the help of a fire crew from Terrace, B.C., McDonald and his father set up sprinklers on the roof of his home.

Dozens of cars ignited during the July 15 blaze, their gas tanks exploding as they burned. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

The rest of the family watched from the highway.

“It was so hot,” said Alena Mayer.

“Burning things were falling all over the place.”

As the 35 cars parked on the towing lot burned, fuel tanks began to explode. By the time the fire crossed the property, the barn and all the vehicles were destroyed, but the house was saved.

Beyond the roadblocks

Access to the expanse west of Williams Lake is extremely restricted. But this week CBC News was granted a permit to bypass the roadblock and see first hand how the wildfires have changed the landscape. 

Lee’s Corner, a restaurant and gas bar in Hanceville, B.C., was consumed by fire on July 7. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

On the Stone First Nation, known as Yunesit’in in the Tsilhqot’in language, local fire crews had just started their second 14-day rotation. Earlier this month, an evacuation order was issued for the reserve, but a collective of locals stayed behind to fight the fire.

“It was pretty chaotic,” said Jordan Bobbie, a 25-year-old community member who just joined the fire crew this year.


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