British Columbia

B.C. wildfire in 2003 remembered by woman who lost her home

All it took was one thoughtlessly discarded cigarette butt to spark one of the most destructive wildfires in British Columbia's history.

Jill Hayward's ranch was one of 72 homes destroyed by the McLure Fire, near Barriere in 2003

An evacuation order has been lifted in Port Hardy allowing about 100 people to return to their homes. (Twitter)

All it took was one thoughtlessly discarded cigarette butt to spark one of the most destructive wildfires in British Columbia's history.

In August 2003, the McLure Fire near Barriere and Louis Creek obliterated 72 homes and a sawmill, and caused the evacuation of 3,800 people from their homes. The fire lasted 75 days and blazed through 26,420 hectares.

As B.C. experiences an early wildfire season that has caused smoke to blanket much of the province's South Coast, local newspaper editor Jill Hayward is reminded of the day the McLure Fire started, and the devastation that ensued.

"We lived north of McLure, probably about a 20-minute drive, and we could see it coming over the mountains towards our ranch at night," Hayward told On the Coast's Stephen Quinn.

"You could just see this big ball of fire coming, and you could see the trees exploding, and you'd see them explode and shoot, like, 400 feet in different directions."

The fire was started by Mike Barre, a man who had stamped out a cigarette butt behind his house before walking away to tend to something else. However, when he turned back, the cigarette butt had started a grass fire. Before long, the flames had spread up a mountain.

The "great, big rolling waves of fire" obliterated Hayward's home, her barns, and her cows.

"It went right through our ranch and didn't leave anything," she recalled. "It looked like downtown Beirut had been bombed out. The next day, when we went back, there was nothing left."

Barre was fined $3,000 for carelessly discarding his cigarette butt. Though he was responsible for the devastation, Hayward said most people in the affected communities understood that it wasn't intentional.

The conditions had been so tinder dry that if it wasn't Barre's cigarette, it would have been something else that would set the area ablaze, Hayward said.

Still, given B.C.'s current wildfire situation, Hayward urges all British Columbians to be extremely careful about their actions.

"Don't flick [cigarettes] out the window," she said.

"Put it in a can, put it in an ashtray, put it in a coffee cup. But don't throw it out, because you have no idea what's going to happen out there."

To hear more, listen to the interview labelled: McLure Fire remembered

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