British Columbia·Feature

'I remember what it's like:' Getting inked in honour of B.C.'s wildfire victims

The line-up at the Whistler Tattoo Company runs out the door. Dozens are waiting for their turn to get inked in honour of the wildfire victims in B.C.

Whistler tattoo shop offering small tree tattoos in exchange for donations to the Canadian Red Cross

The line-up at the Whistler Tattoo Company runs out the door. Dozens are waiting for their turn to get inked in honour of the wildfire victims in B.C. 

"I'm a little overwhelmed," said Kelsey Bareham with the Whistler Tattoo Company. 

"It's been crazy, which is a good thing."

The tattoo artist posted on Facebook sketches of the almost four centimentres-long tattoo designs of cedar, spruce and several other iconic B.C. trees that she's offering in exchange for donations to wildfire victims. 

"It just exploded," she said. 

The first day, 19 people came through and she raised $1,350 for the Canadian Red Cross. All of it is being donated to the charity.

"I spent a lot of my life not in a position to help out. Now that I'm here this is one small thing I can do," Bareham said. 

"One of my friends had her cabin burn down last week ...  There are so many people up there that I care about that don't know if they're going to lose everything, and these are people that have taken their shirts of their back for me before." 

The fundraiser has become so popular, she's had to scale back.

Bareham is now donating 75 per cent of the donations to the victims — the rest will cover supplies and rent. 

Bareham said everyone who has come in is somehow connected to the cause. Either they know someone who has been evacuated or just want an indelible reminder of the trees that symbolize B.C. 

Tara Firma is getting her very first tattoo. 

"It's not unbearable ... and it's for a good cause too, right?" 

The ink goes even deeper for Firma, who was caught in the Kelowna fires more than a decade ago. 

"It feels like so long ago, but lots of memories coming up right now," she said, while Bareham's needle worked in the ink across her abdomen. 

Firma and her family were in-between houses at the time. They were renting while waiting to get approval to buy a home. 

"It was hard for us to actually get our mortgage. We needed fire insurance to get our mortgage and there was moratorium on insurance," she said.

With the fires creeping up from the hills near their rental home, they were forced to jam their belongings in a storage locker, which Firma said looters later broke into and stole. 

"I remember what it's like and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost their place," she said. "Coming back from that is really traumatic."

As for Bareham, she hopes the trend will spread, with other tattoo shops picking up the pen for a good cause.