A Cache Creek family is currently stranded in Ladysmith after wildfires forced the sudden evacuation of their First Nation community last week while they were vacationing here on Vancouver Island.
“A lot of people stayed behind on the reserve and did everything they could to protect it,” said Heather Daniel, who had planned a short visit to see her dad with husband James and their two children, Hunter, 5, and two-year-old Storeigh.
“We had no chance of saving anything but luckily my mom was able to get home after the fire passed…we had to sit there on the phone with her and decide what was important.”
The Ashcroft Reserve wildfire near Cache Creek sparked late Thursday night, only a day after the Daniels had arrived on the island and about 48 hours or so before their scheduled departure to make the seven hour journey back north.
Helplessly watching as images of the destruction spread on social media and in the news more quickly than the fire itself, the family tried to come to grips with the extent of the damage.
“The fire was coming down the mountain again towards our house and the wind shifted and blew it away,” James said, describing how their home on Bonaparte Reserve a few kilometres north of Cache Creek was spared.
Over the course of an hour on Friday they went from not knowing if someone would be able to rescue their cat to learning their home was likely safe and finally feelings of sadness and helplessness for others affected by the fires.
“It was rough. We heard some extended family had lost their house and friends who had lost their animals,” Heather said. “We’re here and we can’t do much to help and we feel so bad. Our community really comes together and we really support each other so that’s weighing heavy on us being this far away.”
Back at home, Heather runs her own small business online and James works on a dairy farm. The owners are hoping to rebuild after almost all of their 2,000 cows were saved.
“When we are actually there I think it will hit us a little bit harder,” James said.
According to BC Wildlife Service, strong winds earlier this week caused the Ashcroft fire to double in size to over 10,000 hectares.
An update on Wednesday afternoon noted there were 183 fires burning in B.C., down from 219 a day earlier.
Emergency Management BC deputy minister Robert Turner said that 7,886 people have registered at local emergency social services centres and 3,500 are taking advantage of the emergency lodging available.
The Daniels are happy to be in Ladysmith – living in a travel trailer they borrowed from a friend for the trip – but at the same time had to fight hard to access some of the same emergency support services available to those at the evacuation centre in Kamloops.
“Coming here for our vacation was a treat and we saved up for it,” Heather said. “It’s stressful trying to figure out how we’re going to make it all work financially. We are just as evacuated as everybody else and there is funding for this and resources out there for people in our position.”
Finally, after phone calls to MLAs both at home and here on the island, the Cowichan Valley Regional District received permission from the province to give them ‘minimal’ help for food and other essentials such as diapers, but not for accommodations or clothing.
“My son doesn’t have any pants because we didn’t pack for colder weather,” said Heather, adding that while her dad is here as support they also don’t want to be a burden. “He can’t afford to feed four extra people. Everybody is on a budget. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
They don’t have immediate plans to return home if the air quality is a risk to their children’s health and hope others who are displaced and facing similar challenges getting access to social services speak up.
Hearing about their situation, many local residents have reached out to help the family and the Daniels are grateful for the additional support.
“Ladysmith has been super, super good to us,” Heather said.