Joanna Kelly, a barrister based in the Kelowna law courts, has recently received authorization to partake in her legal duties via video-link; a decision partially driven by a severe lack of formal clothing as a result of her entire wardrobe, along with the majority of her belongings, being consumed by raging wildfires the previous week.
Joanna and her long-time friend and neighbour, Duncan Vickers, often find themselves captive audiences to a grainy video clip documented on her mobile phone of the now-demolished house. In what has been deemed Canada’s most detrimental wildfire season in history, they have been forced to join the ranks of evacuees in their Okanagan valley community, located in the western province of British Columbia.
Speaking with a noticeable tremor in her voice, Joanna describes the moment when they were blindsided by the ferocious inferno, impulsively reducing almost everything within its reach into ashes – their homes included.
Tellingly, she portrays the surreal image of a wall of fierce, radiant flames engorging on building after building, one after another, leaving nothing behind but skeletal shells of what used to be a thriving neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, Duncan, a Canadian citizen since the 1970s, grieved the loss of nearly everything that symbolized his life’s work, including his father’s treasured World War Two medals. However, echoing the stoic nature of his Yorkshire roots, he prioritizes his family’s safety above all else, stating that the material possessions, though valuable, can be put into perspective.
The stark reality of their new lives is evident from a single gaze from a boat’s vantage point on the lake, where it is still too perilous for the exiled residents, including Joanna and Duncan, to return.
Wildfires, indiscriminate in their destruction, have incinerated several private homes on the waterfront, with frequent witnesses being stunned by scenes of buildings standing almost unscathed just metres away from gutted structures.
Against all odds, citing the exemplary efforts by the local rescue services, the grim statistic of loss of life has been comfortably avoided. Nevertheless, Fire Chief Jason Brolund, who himself faced treacherous fire-fighting scenarios, admits his concerns about their capacity to combat increasing fire threats that now extend from March to November.
Speaking of the stark increase in wildfires, premised at over 1,000 across Canada in a single week, David Eby, the province’s premier, doesn’t discard human-impacted climate change as the main perpetrator. He highlights the province’s fourth consecutive year of drought as a catalyst exacerbating the wildfires’ devastation.
As efforts continue to douse the lingering threats from smaller fires emerging sporadically in the timber-parched forests, both the community and the fire crews draw strength from each other, appreciating their tireless efforts in combating the crises. However, despite the heartening unity, a common consensus foretells the inevitability of more frequent wildfires in the future.