Burns Lake village councillor Charlie Rensby stands at a junction where at fireguard was built by local people last summer. (Blair McBride photo)

Story of wildfire disaster etched on the land

After some sense of normality has returned to life in the Burns Lake area following last summer’s wildfires, the land itself still tells stories of the disaster.

Driving on the west end of Francois Lake, a blackened hillside of thin, burnt trees is visible and eventually that scene stretches back hundreds of metres from the road.

“The fire fingered through there,” said Burns Lake Village councillor Charlie Rensby, who pointed at stands of green trees alongside burned ones.

“But it came through here like a wall,” he told Lakes District News, as he pointed to whole swathes of charred soil and thin black poles that used to be trees.

“When it came through here it was so hot it burned everything down to the rock,” he said.

Rensby stood at a junction where last August he provided support for members of the local Blackwell and Priest families when they built a fireguard road in an effort to stop the Nadina fire which was spreading from Topley towards Francois Lake.

They were left to construct it themselves because firefighting authorities didn’t have the air support or resources to help them.

“We had to wait three days to get permission [from BC Wildfire Service] to build this fireguard. If we had approval to build it in one day the fire probably wouldn’t have progressed,” he explained.

As winter approaches the risks from after-effects of the wildfires are minimal, but spring rains and snowmelt might bring the danger of mudslides that could damage homes and roads.

Many of the hills on the west and south sides of the lake are fully or partially black, and they overlook roads and in some cases houses.

“Mudslides are 100 per cent made worse by last summer’s fires. The tree roots hold in all the soil, sand and clay. When that’s gone it gets washed down easily,” Rensby said.

Some local residents aren’t taking chances with next year’s fire season.

Risa Johansen, owner of Takysie Lake Resort, has helped form the Chinook Emergency Response Society (CERS).

The resort owner last summer refused evacuation orders and stayed behind to protect her property.

The CERS “aims to help protect people and assess skills and equipment that can be used for future fires, so we have a better sense of what to do. A lot of people who left might not leave next time. We need to be prepared and know what to do,” she explained.

Disappointment over how official firefighting powers handled the wildfires also spurred her to organize the CERS.

“I appreciate what BC Wildfires does but it appears they’re a bit out of their league,” she said, adding that the group would have their own emergency plans but would still try and cooperate with the authorities.

“We’re strong supporters of ‘stay and defend’. We would stay again until we felt it was too dangerous.”

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