Dozens of people came out to a community dinner on Nov. 7 focussed on recovering from the devastating wildfires of 2018.
The event at the Francois Lake Hall was meant to mark the end of the formal recovery period.
It was jointly organized by the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
“It’s really important in recovery to give people a chance to talk about their experiences but also to say ‘okay this is finished’ and it gives people a chance to move forward emotionally,” said organizer Sashka Macievich, who is also the Recovery Manager with the RDBN.
The main speaker was Mary Lu Spagrud, Manager of Education and Projects with CMHA in Prince George, who spoke about resiliency and opportunities to grow as communities move on from the trauma of destructive wildfires.
“Post-traumatic growth is recognition that when we come through a traumatic event we come out stronger on the other side. That we’ve developed a better sense of community and recognized our own skills. If we as a community got through the wildfires last summer imagine what you guys as a community could face if needed to in the future. It’s something we need to recognize and we need to celebrate a bit more,” she said.
“You guys have come through hell and back. Celebrate what you’ve learned as you move through that journey to recovery. How do you support each other? How do you take care of yourselves? How do you become better prepared so that you don’t let it defeat you?”
Spagrud has recently been visiting and speaking in northern communities affected by wildfires and sawmill closures.
Even though recovery from the 2018 wildfires has been ongoing for more than a year, the event signified the recovery period completion because the RDBN’s recovery activities had finished by Nov. 7, said Macievich.
Those included a major debris cleanup process on the Southside, restoring electricity to households that lost power during the fires and lobbying the BC Wildfire Service to relax criteria on people making claims for wildfire suppression damages.
But as Macievich explained, the formal recovery process hasn’t bring everything back to normal.
“Only two of the homes that burned down are being rebuilt, of the eight that burned down. They’re being rebuilt for various reasons but mostly because insurance was not available for some people because they’re part of a vulnerable population. Six families had to move somewhere else. That’s a big deal. Their lives will never be the same,” she said.
Less tangible are the mental and emotional effects of the wildfires which still linger for some people.
“Everyone is different and they show anxiety differently. When we had the fire at Lejac in the spring I saw a lot of the trauma resurfacing. there was that fear coming back again. I would say people bounce back a lot better than they think they’re going to or more than they think they will. But there are still people who are going to need some support.”
Francois Lake resident Barbara O’Meara said she enjoyed the event but hoped that it would’ve been more focussed on future preparation.
“We came expecting not more information about resiliency but more discussion about what progress has been made in making things better next time, as we know there will be a next time. I would like to know that things will be better the next time and that challenges will be met,” said O’Meara.