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Book chronicling Vernon’s 2021 wildfire benefits fire victims, firefighters

Smoke and Ash has raised $10K for the OKIB and the North Westside Fire and Rescue Society
Shawn Barnes, deputy chief for the North Westside Fire Rescue department (left), and Okanagan Indian Band councillor Joseph Jack (right) accept cheques for $2,500 from authors Virginia Dansereau (second from left), Heather Clay and Sue Urquhart. The funds were raised from sales of the book Smoke and Ash, which chronicles the White Rock Lake wildfire’s impact on the Vernon area. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

A book chronicling Vernon’s harrowing 2021 wildfire season has raised funds for the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) and the North Westside Fire and Rescue Society.

Smoke and Ash: Reflections on the 2021 Vernon B.C. Area Fires is a 60-page book compiled by Virginia Dansereau, Sue Urquhart and Heather Clay. The book features photographs, paintings and poems from members of the community that capture the essence of those oppressively smoke-filled and red-tinged days during the White Rock Lake Wildfire, which destroyed more than 80 homes in the North Westside district and 10 homes in the OKIB.

To date, close to 800 copies of the book have sold, and the book coordinators are looking at doing a fourth printing.

Dansereau, Urquhart and Clay met with Shawn Barnes, deputy chief of the North Westside Fire Rescue department, and OKIB councillor Joseph Jack on Tuesday, Oct. 25. They presented both with a cheque for $2,500 — funds raised from book sales.

It is the second such donation. The book coordinators first contributed to the OKIB and North Westside Fire Rescue in the spring of 2022. The latest donation brings the total amount donated to the two groups up to $10,000.

“It’s phenomenal the support they’ve been giving, and it just keeps going,” said Barnes, who added that the donation will be used to provide scholarships to two young firefighters looking to undergo emergency medical responder training.

The OKIB will put the funds towards its wildfire recovery team, assisting people whose homes were destroyed by the fire, said Jack. While some of the homes have been rebuilt, there are still families who remain displaced by the blaze.

Dansereau, Urquhart and Clay met each other while volunteering for the City of Vernon’s Emergency Support Services during the 2017 wildfire evacuation response, an experience that brought them together as friends. In 2021 they were again volunteering at the evacuation centre at the Vernon rec centre. They were all writing poems and prose or painting about their experiences during those dark days when the wildfire was raging and people were suffering.

“Why we were writing was, when you’re dealing with people in emotional distress like that, we end up in some emotional distress as well,” said Urquhart. “You’re dealing with people in tears, you’re dealing with angry people, and so I would go home and write.”

The book coordinators said the writing process was therapeutic for them, and it was a while before each of them knew that the others were also writing as a way to defuse their tense feelings in those emotional times.

When the three of them found out they were coping with the stress of the wildfire situation in the same way, they decided to put their creations together into a book. Their shared efforts culminated into the publishing of Smoke and Ash.

“We had no money, we had nothing,” Dansereau said.

That didn’t stop them from putting together a book that has earned more than $10,000 in proceeds to date.

Barnes said the book reflects the grim reality of the summer of 2021, which he can recall vividly.

“I mean I was there, I was 33 days on site so a lot of those pictures are in my memory,” he said.

The book coordinators say they will keep printing the book for as long as there is a demand for it.

“And we hope we never have to write another one,” said Urquhart.

READ MORE: New book documents Vernon’s 2021 wildfire season

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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