Although evacuation orders were issued by the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) for the area south of Burns Lake, commonly known as Southside, many local residents have chosen to stay behind to protect their land, homes and livelihood.
Lakes District News has asked some of these residents to share their stories.
According to Catherine Van Tine Marcinek, whose home sits on Ootsa Lake – where her family has been since the early 1900s, the overall mood on the Southside has swung since the wildfire situation began.
“This is becoming our norm out here,” explained Marcinek, who’s a guide/outfitter for Cheslatta Carrier Nation and general manager of the Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort in North Tweedsmuir Park.
“Anxiety has dropped, fears have lessened and everyone is just doing what we need to do; everyone has a job to do and we all do it every day,” she said. “The calm right now is almost surreal at times; there is smoke in our lungs and tears in our eyes as we watch our land being swallowed by these beasts.”
Without cellphone service or electricity at Ootsa Lake, some residents are using generators to stay connected to the outside world.
“We run it during the day to charge up the freezers and fridges, and run the Internet.”
Meanwhile Marcinek’s home has become a meeting point.
“This is the dropping point for supplies, so people gather to encourage each other, gather supplies they need or have ordered, or just stop because they need to see someone to talk and laugh.”
Community support has been “overwhelming”
Marcinek said the support she’s seen from other communities has been “overwhelming” at times.
“More than once have I cried after another load is dropped off – everything from dental floss and ravioli, to diesel and generators,” she said. “As a community we have bonded together more than I’ve ever dreamed possible.”
Marcinek added that locals have made a big difference combating the fires.
“Our men and our boys are fighting these fires… and doing an amazing job,” she said. “They are the ones putting out these fires.”
“We are learning from this whole process so that, hopefully after this is all said and done, the systems that are failing us will be changed to better accompany the next beast that engulfs a B.C. community.”
Support a “real community builder”
Wistaria residents Kathy and Merle Hoesing, who have also chosen to stay behind to protect their home, say they have received a lot of support over the past week.
“We have had good air support in the form of a helicopter with a bucket putting out hot spots,” they described last week. “The fire retardant plane dropped a couple of loads in front of our place trying to stop the fire from crossing the Ootsa Nadina Road and Harrison Bay Road.”
“We slept better after that I can tell you.”
“The Cheslatta Carrier Nation has been supplying the locals with fuel for their generators and pumps. It’s very generous of them and we really appreciate it. Several groups are delivering food donations and even accepting lists of needs. It’s absolutely wonderful that there is so many people out there willing to do all this work – a real community builder.”
“It’s great to have such good neighbours and friends as we all help each other get through this difficult and stressful time.”
Southsiders not allowed to leave and return
According to the Hoesing’s, what’s not working is that when residents go across Francois Lake, they cannot return.
“We need equipment fixed, but it will have to wait untill they lift the bans,” said the Hoesing’s. “Also hard not having phones, but lucky to have Wi-Fi and the computer to keep updated and in communication with people.”
The RDBN has been granting permits for people to take certain supplies to Southside residents who have chosen to stay behind. However, even with the permit people are not allowed to go into the Southside.
“Not much help here except for us locals”
Shannon Piper, who lives close to Wistaria Hall, said this has been “the worst ride of her life.” She said she feels like there hasn’t been a lot of provincial help for Southsiders.
“Not much help here except for us locals,” she said. “I have seen bombers twice – both times when fire got too close to my neighbours; we have seen choppers with water buckets four times.”
She added that she would also like to see the ferry access reopen so that she could run errands such as banking.
“People fighting for their lives”
According to Dana Glanville, a Telkwa resident who has friends and family on the Southside, people who stayed behind are composed of ranchers, loggers and small business owners.
“Many have lengthy experience fighting fires, with or without the paper certificates deeming them acceptable,” she said. “These are not inexperienced individuals making some sort of romantic last stand.”
“These people are literally fighting for their lives, their homes, and their livelihoods because the province has made it clear they either cannot or will not help.”
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