An SUV sits with its lights on in the dark against a wildfire burning in the background.

Photo Credit: Global News

Are We Setting Ourselves Up for More Ghost Towns?

It's a quiet fire year, but they're not all like this

What happens if a fire blocks the only road out?

There’s a 25 hectare fire burning near the Nimpkish River. There are three fires, actually. But only one is big and out of control.

If you threw a dart at a map and it landed between Gold River and Woss, that’s where the fires are.

The fires are remote for now, so the BC Wildfire Service is monitoring the fire under a “modified response” plan. That means they don’t want them to get any bigger, but they aren’t doing much more than watching.

It’s a relief knowing that recent lighting storms only left a few gifts behind. And those gifts are far from where folks live.

But it highlights how much we need fire crews. Last year, firefighters put out blazes on VanIsle quicker than they could take hold. That kept a lot of folks safe.

Places like Woss, Tahsis, Gold River, and Zeballos depend on volunteers to staff their fire crews. But like we mentioned last week, Zeballos doesn’t have a fire department now.

Tahsis struggles to keep theirs going. Sarah Fowler is a village councillor there. She told the Vancouver Sun that her husband joined the volunteer fire service, and she got training to become a lifeguard.

“How do you live in a place without a fire service? You become the fire service,” she said. “This pioneer life isn’t for the faint of heart.”

Gold River is recruiting for its volunteer fire service at the upcoming Gold River Days.

Woss got new fire trucks last year. But they attend to everything from fires to car crashes. They’re stretched thin.

These are the fine lines folks walk living in small-town VanIsle. There are huge benefits. “There is a real sense of community,” Fowler said. “Your neighbours support you.”

The flip side is that you and your neighbours are the fire department, emergency response, and local government all wrapped into one.

This is a triple-dip La Niña year. It’s cooler. It’s wetter. What happens when we go “back to normal” next year and the fires get worse?

Zeballos still remembers the fire in 2018. What if a fire like that were to block the only road in? Or the only road to Tahsis?

Are folks in town expected to be structural engineers, too?

We know from last year’s atmospheric rivers that the province doesn’t rush to help anyone. Hell, people had to arrange their own helicopters to lift themselves off broken highways.

Emergency response here is in shambles. And it’s worse in small, out-of-the-way places.

Sure, in Zeballos folks have been told to call 911 if there’s a fire. There’s no local fire service, but 911 can dispatch the BC Wildfire Service. But Christina Lepore remembers the last time she needed their help in the Zeballos fire in 2018.

She told the Vancouver Sun that burning branches were dropping on her property before the Wildfire Service came in with helicopters.

Why even live in a town where no one is coming to help in an emergency?