When John Donnelly first heard about the wildfires ravaging the B.C. Interior, his emotions took over. The images of people fleeing their homes and scenes of fires destroyed buildings were unforgettable.
“I was fairly upset,” said Donnelly, a Victoria resident. “It really affected me. I lived there, I know people there, I was a part of it. To see it just being destroyed, it’s just heartbreaking.”
A number of wildfires have ripped through B.C.’s interior in recent weeks. Cache Creek was the first town evacuated as the Ashcroft Reserve wildfire ripped through the town almost two weeks ago. The largest fire in the province is now the Hanceville-Riske Creek complex, in which a series of smaller fires have merged to form a 98,000-hectare blaze about 60 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
The fires have since displaced more than 45,000 people.
Wanting to help, Donnelly sprang into action to organize a benefit luncheon in Victoria on Aug. 10 to support families forced out of their homes by the wildfires. The hope is to raise $40,000 with the event, hosted at the Union Club of B.C. on Gordon Street.
The Interior holds a special place in Donnelly’s heart. He worked in Kamloops from 1983 to 1995, managing a large insurance company, and would take business trips to areas between Williams Lake and Osoyoos.
“I know how quickly the fires can move up there with all the wild grass, sagebrush, trees and the dryness in the summer time,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a large event because they just don’t have the resources to put them [the fires] all out at once. I knew it would be a devastating thing for the people living there … this is going to affect them for the rest of their lives and whatever we can do to help them is a real benefit.”
Funds raised with the luncheon will be donated to the Red Cross to be distributed to affected families. While the provincial and federal governments have yet to announce a program to match donations, Donnelly hopes one will be implemented to help him reach his fundraising goal.
This isn’t the first time he’s stepped up to help a community in need. Last year, when fire ripped through Fort McMurray, Donnelly raised $10,000 with a fundraiser at the Union Club.
The Thursday, Aug. 10 luncheon includes a speech by B.C.’s Lt-Gov. Judith Guichon and takes place from noon to 2 p.m. Tickets are $100. To reserve seats, call the Union Club at 250-384-1151 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations can be made up until two days before the event. Tax receipts will also be issued.