B.C.’s devastating 2017 wildfire season revisited in new book

British Columbia Burning written by CBC journalist Bethany Lindsay

The story of Clinton store owner Jinwoo Kim was emblematic of how people come together during the Elephant Hill wildfire last summer that threatened to destroy his community.

Kim was ready to leave with his family, but then his mind turned to all the friends and neighbours he’s known all his life.

Kim and his brother Sang spoke with the local RCMP and firefighters, and all agreed that he would be best to keep his gas station and store open as long as possible to assist the firefighting effort.

So Kim supplied the crews, while looking out for others who defied the order to evacuate Clinton.

Since no one was allowed to leave their homes, Kim delivered groceries and beer when he could get supplied.

“I grew up here so this is my hometown. I didn’t want this to be burnt down. This is my life right here. All my friends are here, all my friends’ houses are here,” he explained.

Kim’s story is one of many told in a new book about the summer of 2017 called British Columbia Burning: The worst wildfire season in B.C. history.

Written by Lower Mainland journalist Bethany Lindsay, the coffee table-style book relates a myriad of storylines involving people affected by the wildfires, which ignited more than 1.2 million hectares and forced the evacuation of more than 65,000 people, accompanied by a hundreds of photo images.

Bethany Lindsay

Lindsay said the 106-page literary effort, her first book, posed a different challenge compared to writing for the Vancouver Sun, which she did for five years up until 2017, or her current role working the website desk for CBC.

She thought the 2017 wildlife season offered the potential to be told in a book, so she was keen to pursue the idea when it was presented to her by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. in Nova Scotia.

“I got the contract to do it in September last year and my deadline was December 31. It was four straight months of doing interviews every day in my spare time and then writing and rewriting,” Lindsay said.

“There were definitely points where I thought, ‘Oh my God, is this ever going to be over,’ but I managed to get it finished by 8 p.m. on Dec. 31. I really hope the people who opened up their hearts to me and told me their stories will be happy with it.”

Lindsay feels the overriding takeaway from the 2017 wildfires is we live in a state of “new normal” where everything that used to be predictable no longer is.

“Now the wildfire season starts much earlier than it used to, lasts longer and the bad fires are capable of a lot more damage,” Lindsay said.

Inside page layout of British Columbia Burning is mixed with photos and text.

The challenge for governments, she feels, is to invest in forest fire fuel management initiatives to reduce the spiralling costs of fighting major fires.

“We need to do more controlled burning, and we need to talk with First Nations people about the historic significance behind those practices,” she said.

She noted the Filmon report produced in the aftermath of the 2013 Okanagan Mountain fire made a similar recommendation which was never embraced by the provincial government.

“These kind of measures are expensive, but place it in comparison to doing nothing and the huge cost of fighting these fires, which are a hugely expensive undertaking,” she said.

That report was written by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon, who also wrote the foreword to Lindsay’s book.

“I was trying to think of someone who could write a foreward to the book and I thought about Gary Filmon. I had never met him so it was a bit of a longshot, but I just asked him and he said he’d be more than happy to do it.”

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


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barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

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