Salmon Arm Fire - Community was key

By Mike, Jane, Megan and Jessica

My family went through the Salmon Arm, British Columbia forest fire of 1998. The most striking memories of this event occurred when the fire was on the other side of Mount Ida and burning brightly through the night. In a twisted way, it was almost entertainment as the water bombers and helicopters went non-stop through every minute of daylight.

When the city was placed on evacuation notice, I went to fill up my car with gas and make sure we were mobile, as did most of the other residents. I was standing at the Coop Gas station at the top of Highway #1-E when the fire crested the top of Mount Ida and started to move down the mountain towards the city... all I could think of was getting home, loading my family and getting to safety. It went from entertainment to life threatening in less than a second. The flames as they crested Mount Ida were twirling in huge spirals that seemed to stretch into the sky forever - fingers of flame reaching towards our city.

I got home and we loaded the jeep with all the important items we could. It was at this point the RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces were moving through our neighbourhood giving out the evacuation alert and maps for the route we were to take if final evacuation happened. As it turned out, the area we lived in was the fourth of four sections in the evacuation plan, and the only sector that was not evacuated.

This was very interesting as it made us, as a family, decide what was important and what we would leave behind. We had already loaded our backyard with some friends' livestock of chickens as they lived on Mount Ida and had been evacuated two days earlier.

We decided the chickens would have to stay and fend for themselves. As we loaded the jeep, our pictures, memories and our earthquake kit were the first in the car. Then we got selective... I have to admit when we unloaded the car after the emergency passed, we had a couple of laughs, such as over how my golf clubs had ended up underneath all those boxes of photographs.

The smell of smoke was thick, ambers and ash were landing all around us. I had moved my bbq and boat gas tanks under the patio in order to ensure no embers could land on them.

The following days were very trying as our home was on the direct approach to Shuswap Lake that the helicopters and water bombers were using. I think I know how residents of Vietnam must have felt with choppers and bombers flying overhead all day long. The huge Mars Martin water bomber flew over our house at least 10 times a day. So low I could see the pilot's silhouette at times.

We volunteered to help the Salvation Army distribute food and water to the front lines of the fire. This was a real example to us of how important the Salvation Army is. They were there 24/7 with portable kitchens, food, water and support. Very impressive.

At one point we were sent to pick up some coffee and snacks, (which the coffee shop never charged us for at any time throughout the fire), and then distribute them to the RCMP officers that were manning the road blocks around the evacuated parts of town. It was a real eye opener when we arrived and saw the Canadian Armed Forces had arrived. They were gathering in the parking lot across the street from the coffee shop, in full uniforms and weapons. It made the whole thing very real.

We needed mosquito repellant for the fire fighters, coolers for ice, fridges to keep water and juice cold at the base camp. Local merchants just gave us what we needed, no charge. One store must have given at least $5,000 to $6,000 worth of inventory. NO CHARGE. Other stores not only gave us mosquito repellant, but bandages, bite kits, aspirin, Tylenol, and so on and so on. Again, very impressive.

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