British Columbia

Logan Lake, B.C., straggler defying evacuation order to save house says he won't go until he sees embers

At least one straggler is staying behind in Logan Lake, B.C., despite an official order to vacate the tiny southern Interior community even as B.C. wildfire officials beseech people to leave now.

Fire officials warn that staying behind can end up getting people trapped in a firefighting zone

A pyrocumulus cloud, also known as a fire cloud, forms in the sky as the Tremont Creek wildfire burns on the mountains above Ashcroft, B.C., on July 16, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

At least one straggler is staying behind in Logan Lake, B.C., despite an official order to vacate the tiny southern Interior community even as B.C. wildfire officials beseech people to leave now.

Hundreds of people scrambled to leave the community north of Merritt, B.C., on Thursday, after an evacuation order was issued. The threat is the spreading Tremont Creek fire.

But on Friday, one senior said he's not ready to go.

Dave Arbuckle said he awoke to smoky skies that blurred anything beyond a kilometre away and when he looked outside he said that most driveways were empty after the exodus. 

But he's not convinced the fire danger is imminent.

"I was surprised that people were so panicky about the situation," said Arbuckle.

"People are frightened, and so they go," he said.

But the retired mineral chemist and ardent musician who has lived in Logan Lake for 43 years stayed behind packing his treasured valuable antique stringed-instrument collection of banjos, mandolins and guitars.

Logan Lake, B.C., is blanketed in smoke as people work to get their livestock to safety. An evacuation order was issued Aug. 12, 2021 due to spreading wildfires. (Julie Smith)

Arbuckle is watching the satellite weather, hoping for rain or a change in the wind. He was loath to abandon his 1903 baby grand piano.

"I'll watch — I'll visually watch the situation and when I can see flames or embers — then I'll be out of here." 

He's been tracking the wind and smoke and says it's been bad for a month.

"I don't think anything is gonna happen here — but I could be wrong."

Officials say anybody who ignores an evacuation order is putting themselves and firefighters at risk.

B.C. has close to 270 fires burning across the province — and has already lost most of one town — Lytton — to flames. Conditions are dry due to ongoing drought and now a second heat wave, making fire danger ratings extreme in much of the province.

In other parts of the Interior and the Okanagan some people have hung on to fight the fire themselves — or save livestock.

Some near Westwold bristled at the orders to get out for safety — and criticized the government saying they were left to fight to save property with little help.

Horse trailers in Logan Lake Aug. 12, working to get animals to safety after the 2,000-person community in the southern Interior was ordered evacuated due to wildfire. (Julia Smith)

But officials say many people just do not realize they can end up blocked in — by massive fire hoses or fire guards — or worse — smoke and flames.

Arbuckle says he doesn't see why people are panicking. The acrid taste of wildfire smoke is nothing new in Logan Lake.

He got up at 4:30 a.m. to water his place with sprinklers to protect against embers which float ahead of massive wildfires and set new ones.

This photo from the 2018 wildfire season was taken of Tunkwa Lake Road, located about six kilometres north of Logan Lake. (BC Wildfire Service/Twitter)

But emergency co-ordinators say people don't understand how much it interferes with firefighting if they can't ensure people are gone.

Jamie Jeffreys, the B.C. Wildfire Service director of strategic engagement and partnerships, says people who stay behind complicate the fire fight.

It's often unclear where people are, so it can impede plans to counter fire using methods that could injure humans.

"We're not going to want to deploy certain tactics or drop retardant or water, not knowing that people are out of the way," said Jeffreys.

Another problem is the lack of understanding of how massive wildfires are fought. Often by the time community members who hang around after an evacuation realize they don't feel safe — they are going to have trouble getting out, according to Rick Manwaring, deputy minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development.

"When the structural protection units go in, they lay out very large diameter hoses all over the streets. So if those people are trapped behind the hoses — and they think they can drive out — it makes it almost impossible for them to get out. It's not just about water bombers and heavy equipment. It's also about their ability to leave the area after they feel unsafe."

Arbuckle says he's seen no water bombers over his area this season and he does not understand why the military isn't called in to help and more isn't done, before communities full of people, like Logan Lake, are at risk.

As for Arbuckle, he says when it's unsafe, he will head to Merritt, despite warnings that town is already full of evacuees.

"I'm not going to go to Kamloops. It's a crazy place."


Yvette Brend

CBC journalist

Yvette Brend works in Vancouver on all CBC platforms. Her investigative work has spanned floods, fires, cryptocurrency deaths, police shootings and infection control in hospitals. “My husband came home a stranger,” an intimate look at PTSD, won CBC's first Jack Webster City Mike Award. Got a tip?