British Columbia

After devastating B.C. wildfires, Interior residents thankful for community strength

“It’s just amazing how small communities demonstrate their resilience by pulling together at a time of need,” said one mayor of a small town. He wasn't alone on Thanksgiving as residents reflected on 2017's worst-ever B.C. wildfires.

'To see the importance of coming together ... I definitely would hope that lasts'

Firefighters and emergency workers greet evacuated citizens as they return to 100 Mile House in July. With the provincial emergency past them, voices in B.C.'s Interior reflected on Thanksgiving about how communities came together in the face of the unprecedented disaster. (Canadian Forces)

While many people and communities suffered dearly from the wildfires that ripped through B.C. this summer, on Thanksgiving, there was also a sense of gratitude for some.

On a holiday edition of Daybreak South, voices from B.C.'s Interior said the adversity gave affected communities a stronger bond than they had before.

One of those people was Xatsull First Nation band councillor Kelly Sellars, who, along with other members of his community, chose to stay behind and fight the flames.

He said he's grateful for how it brought people closer together.

Members of a Domestic Response Company made up of Canadian Army Primary Reserves from all over B.C. attack a fire hot zone near Riske Creek, B.C. in August. (Cpl. Blaine Sewell/MARPAC)

"They came out of the woodwork, wherever they were. And people you didn't have communication with, next thing you know, you're fighting for the same cause," he told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

"To see the importance of coming together ... and how those walls were broken down, I definitely would hope that it lasts."

Those sentiments were expressed by others in B.C.'s Interior Monday.

Listen to the full interview with Kelly Sellars:

'It has brought our community closer together'

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb said the damage from the 2017 wildfire season will be long term.

The entire city was evacuated. Some residents found jobs elsewhere and won't come back. Thousands of hectares of forest the logging community relies on was engulfed and won't grow back for generations.

But, Cobb said, the fires gave the community a new perspective.

"It made a lot of people appreciate the communities around us that helped us … it's been really, really positive and I think it has brought our community closer together," he said.

"Unfortunately, it takes a disaster to do that."

A stand of trees destroyed by fire near Williams Lake. The mayor says the loss of trees near the city will be damaging to the local economy. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta, whose village was also evacuated, said he was inspired by the dedication of the volunteer firefighters and other first responders who stayed behind to prevent damage to many homes.

"It's just amazing how small communities demonstrate their resilience by pulling together at a time of need," he said.

And while he said the community is still mourning the loss of fire chief Clayton Cassidy during spring floods, he also said he's thankful that no lives were lost during the fires themselves.

Listen to the interview with Walt Cobb and John Ranta:

Still 'a tenderness'

Working to provide spiritual comfort for evacuees in Kamloops was Pastor Dan Hines, who organized interfaith vigils.

He said that work has changed Thanksgiving for him.

"There's a tenderness and even, I would say, a rawness, from this summer, that wasn't there in other Thanksgivings," he said.

"I've come into Thanksgiving with an even deeper appreciation for community and what it provides and how important it is to build resilient communities and take care of one another and really be there."

Listen to the full interview with Dan Hines:

Sherrie Fraser, of Boston Flats, said she benefited from that community resilience.

Her trailer home was one of the few in her neighbourhood untouched by fire. But it was later destroyed by another destructive force: rats.

Fraser said her insurance company has written it off and she has bought into a new neighbourhood in Ashcroft.

The aftermath of the fire in Boston Flats that ripped through Sherrie Fraser's neighbourhood. Her trailer was originally thought to be the only one untouched by fire, but a handful of others also survived. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

She credits her community for helping her get through the rollercoaster of emotions.

"For the most part, everybody's doing well and just looking for the future," she said. "Everybody lived through it. … and I think that's the big thing.

"I have my health, still have my family and friends. What else can you ask for?"

Listen to the interview with Sherrie Fraser:

With files from Daybreak South