Linda Carrier woke up in her home at Columbia Lake, B.C., last week to a welcome sight. Heavy rain clouds had settled in from the north, blanketing the sky over the forest fires that raged in southeastern British Columbia. Then, shortly after noon the rain came, putting an end to the fourweek drought that, along with high winds, lightning and scorching temperatures, helped to create one of the worst and the most expensive forest fire seasons in British Columbia’s history. Said Carrier, 33, who refused to leave her home after receiving evacuation no-
tices: “I just stood there feeling the rain. Believe me, it’s good and wet now.”
The rain helped to dampen down tinder-dry forests in an area where British Columbia’s largest fires had been burning out of control for more than 10 days. Earlier, three massive infernos—codenamed Ram, Matt and Spen—had marched across an area roughly three times the size of Vancouver and forced the evacuation of the lumbering community of Canal Flats (population 1,400) in the southeastern corner of the province. But last week the fires began to die down, and residents started to return to their homes.
It was then that they learned that factors other than natural causes may have led to the destruction and dislocation, at least in the Canal Flats area. Mike Russell Hunter, a 24-year-old Canal Flats area resident, appeared in court in neighboring Cranbrook charged with four counts of arson in connection
with the fires near Canal Flats. Hunter was remanded in custody for another appearance in court this week, but RCMP officers in the case refused to indicate how much of a role arson might have played in the fires.
Despite last week’s rainfall, more than 800 fires continued to burn over half a million acres of forest last week, destroying timber worth an estimated $700 million. In the Prince George region, the Ram fire burned a 17,000-acre swath through timberland, while on Vancouver Island 20 new fires broke out. But forecasts of cooler temperatures
and overcast weather raised hopes that the fires would soon be brought under control. Said Kenneth Lines, spokesman for the B.C. Fire Control Centre: “These fires don’t stay high-pitched forever. There’s always a peak with them, and we think we’ve reached it.”
Since British Columbia’s fires started burning in early July, more than 5,500 firefighters have been enlisted, many inexperienced, and seven had been killed by the end of last week.
As some of the fires died down, the provincial ministry of tourism promised to launch a $10,000 advertising campaign to draw tourists back to the firestricken area. But as Michael Horsey, the province’s deputy minister of tourism, admitted, “The pictures of the fire have been highly emotional.” Even when the flames are extinguished, it will be weeks before life returns to normal in the region.
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