'They're not just numbers. These are people we know': Ashcroft, B.C.'s wildfire devastation

“It’s hard seeing people you love … losing everything.”
Volunteers outside the Ashcroft reserve, which was hit by the wildfires raging through B.C. (Laura Lynch/CBC)

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Never mind the smoke hanging heavy in the air, the huge fires burning kilometres away, it's dinnertime in Ashcroft, B.C., and that means one thing: those on the front lines need to be fed.

Pat Kilt is a volunteer with the Ashcroft Legion. She is seen prepping food for free community meals. (Laura Lynch/CBC)

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 113 kitchen is busy dishing out today's meal.

George Cook, president of the Ashcroft Legion, delivering food to people working on the power lines. (Laura Lynch/CBC)

After wildfires took out power to part of the town, legion volunteers like Pat Kilt have been preparing free meals for the community. When they found out that crews working on the hydro lines weren't getting meals they decided to feed them too.

"They don't stop working ... there is so much work around here that they have to keep going."

The legion hall is stuffed with food supplies, showcasing the generosity of the 1,600 or so people who live in this village on the banks of the Thompson River. Ashcroft was founded in the 1860s, during the Cariboo Gold Rush.

Just over a week ago, a fire, fuelled by winds and sagebrush reached the riverbank but not the village. Instead, it was the Ashcroft Indian Reserve that was devastated by flame — little is left standing.

We drove up to the sandpit and by the time we got there, my house was already engulfed.- Angie Thorne,  resident of Aschroft Indian Reserve

Down by the banks of the river, some of the 76 people live on a campsite after having had to flee the reserve.

Jonah Anstett, one of the people fighting the blaze and saving homes, has been a volunteer firefighter for 16 years.

But 2017 has been a tough year.

In May, Anstett was present when they found the body of the local fire chief who drowned during floods that ravaged the region.

Now, there's fire.

People of Ashrcroft mark their cars with slogans of solidarity and support for firefighters. (Laura Lynch/CBC)
They're not just numbers. These are people we know.

This wildfire is unlike anything he's ever seen, says Anstett.

The heat and unstoppable winds have made the last week particularly bad. 

"It's hard seeing people you love … losing everything," says Anstett.

"They're not just addresses. They're not just numbers. These are people we know."

We're protecting homes, says the veteran volunteer firefighter.

"[It's] not easy watching people you love hurt."

Listen to the full documentary at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Cathy Simon and Josh Bloch.