The 2017 wildfire season was one that many British Columbians won’t soon forget. More than 1.2 million hectares were set aflame, more than $649 million in fire suppression was expended and more than 65,000 people were evacuated over the course of the record-breaking summer.
Two B.C. residents whose homes – and lives – were endangered by fires are now sharing their experiences in a new book, Captured by Fire: Surviving British Columbia’s New Wildfire Reality.
Bestselling author Chris Czajkowski and debut author Fred Reid are coming to the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives on Wednesday, Oct. 9, for a book signing. The event includes a talk given by the authors centred on experiences described in the book accompanied by a slide show of infernal images taken by Reid, and by helicopter pilots overhead.
“We’ve planned the slide show much the same way as we’ve planned the book,” said Czajkowski. “I had the first dramatic adventure right on July 17th because I was in Williams Lake when it all blew up.” Nearly 40,000 people were evacuated in Czajkowski around that day.
The scenes of the book take place around the towns of 100 Mile House, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Princeton and Williams Lake, where nearly ten thousand people were told to evacuate immediately, some of them unable to return to their homes for months.
But not everyone left when the evacuation order came. Living in remote areas and knowing their homes would be low priority to officials when firefighting resources were allocated, Czajkowski and Reid stayed behind to protect their properties, animals, and livelihoods.
Reid – a farmer in the Frasey Valley for more than 30 years – stayed despite having flames practically on his doorstep. Czajkowski recounts August 3 of 2017 as one frightening day in particular.
“The fire actually raged all around him on the steep hills on both sides,” she says, having been glued to Reid’s Facebook updates that day as he shared what was going on around him.
“August 3rd was extremely nerve-racking, and people who come to the slide shows will see those awful pictures. I could see it was a really horrifying event on the online maps … and so it was such a relief to see on August 4 that he’d posted and they’d survived it.”
Czajkowski is an established writer who’s published 11 other books about wilderness life. Working with first-time author Fred Reid, she had the task of working together the two manuscripts, alternating chapter-by-chapter between their dramatic fist-person accounts.
“I’ve known Fred for a long time, I wouldn’t have done it with a stranger. I knew the situation, I knew his place, and it was me who asked him to help give his story to this book.”
The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Museum and Archives, located at 3009 32nd Avenue. Admission is $5 at the door.
Czajkowski and Reid will also be stopping in Salmon Arm on Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. at the Salmon Arm Library. They’ll be in West Kelowna at the Westbank Library on Oct. 10 at 2 p.m.