Our home the night of the fire, photo by Angie Laryea
During the firestorm, a brave neighbour drove up the road to check on our place and took an amazing photo above of the hillside behind our home ablaze, yet the fire never went past the area that had been watered. This successful protection of our home should serve as a prime example of why everyone who lives in rural areas needs to do fire proofing to protect their homes.
A photo of our house the day after the fire
A fire caused by lightning started above the west side of Adams Lake on July 12th, grew slowly then initially exploded on July 20th due to a windstorm. Early in August, it moved down the hillside and if not for a huge effort by firefighters it would have destroyed homes and cabins along the lake. The fire continued to grow due to the winds and edged further southeast towards the North Shuswap community of Lee Creek, in the North Shuswap. By the third week of August it was about 6 km away from properties. When the weather report indicated that a strong northerly windstorm would hit on the evening of August 17th, the BC Wildfire Service made the extremely risky decision to use a controlled burn (a backburn) to reduce the fuel load in front of the fire.
They lit the backburn using a helicopter and ping-pong balls filled with sodium nitrate and anti-freeze. It was a massive fire that produced a giant mushroom cloud of smoke above the hills above our home. The next day the strong winds blew the combined fire down to Lee Creek, Scotch Creek and Celista, destroying approximately 100 homes, cabins, and businesses.
A view from our house of the initial smoke from the backburn moments after it was lit, photo by Kathi Cooperman
Another photo of the backburn minutes after it was lit, photo by Jim Cooperman
The fire also combined with another fire on east side of Adams Lake below the lake creating a firestorm that blew into Squilax, forcing the evacuation of the fire camp in a field and then destroying a gas station, homes and many cabins. It jumped across the Little Shuswap River and then destroyed homes north and south of the Squilax Bridge before moving up Squilax Mountain, east to the hills above Sorrento and south into Turtle Valley. This end of the fire continues to threaten the South Shuswap, Skimikin, Sorrento and as far away as Tappen.
A photo of me working on the spot fire near our home
I was able to return to my property the day after the fire swept through and with the help of a young WWOOFer from Germany, we began working on a spot fire that could have burned down our pump house and/or lit the remaining forest on fire and burned down a neighbour’s house. We used buckets from our pond initially, until a fire department truck arrived. It was doused multiple times and it kept coming back, because it was burning underground in tree roots. One of the many locals with a truck and water tank also came to help. When we finally left near dark, there was another fire truck dousing it. Then late that night it blew up again and the local returned to water it down. This example shows how difficult it is to deal with spot fires, that could continue for months.
A fire department crew from Vancouver Island again working on our spot fire at the end of the day. This fire continue to flare up for days afterwards and was again doused by both local and fire department fire fighters.
The main news story yesterday that continues today is that equipment used to keep a key bridge watered down was either stolen or “borrowed.” They use this story continuously to justify the heavy police lockdown, yet there many doubts about this story, because no one ever saw the equipment missing. The fire had swept by the area during the Friday night firestorm and there was no longer any threat to the bridge as there were no nearby spot fires and yet they continued to water the bridge. As well, the equipment being used is extremely heavy and would not be easy to take away.
Because of the road blockades and spike belts, the only way in and out is by boat. Many dozens of boat owners have been volunteering their time to ferry people and supplies back and forth from the south shore to the north shore from marinas in Blind Bay and Sorrento and from private docks. Yet now police and conservation officers are out on the lake halting and chasing these boats, with the aid of police on shore using binoculars. As well, police have shown up at the marinas to block this effort.
The reason our home was saved is due to the fire smart work we have done over the past few years. We selectively logged our property, leaving most of the largest trees and near our home we removed most of the conifer trees. Knowing how dangerous decorative junipers are, we removed all the ones that posed a threat. On the day before the firestorm, we thoroughly watered the hillside behind our house, as that is where the fire would come from as lawns cover the yard in front of our house.
Interview with me – Listen and watch
A BC Wildfire Service map of the fire showing the evacuation order and alert zones as of August 20, 2023:
About The Author
Author of the local best seller, Everything Shuswap, Jim Cooperman moved to the Shuswap in 1969 as a war resister and a back-to-the-lander, after receiving his BA from the University of California at Berkeley. Over the succeeding years, Jim taught school, worked in construction and log building, operated a sawmill, and edited a provincial environmental journal, the BC Environmental Report. His local environmental work led to the protection of over 25,000 hectares of new parks in the Shuswap, which is documented in the book, Big Trees Saved, by Deanna Kawatski. He has researched and written about local history and helped initiate and edit the local history journal, Shuswap Chronicles I and II. In 1993, he wrote the Chapter on Canada in Clearcut – The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry. And in 1998, he wrote Keeping the Special in Special Management Zones, A Citizens’ Guide, published by BC Spaces for Nature. Jim lives with his wife, Kathleen, in a log home they built on 40 acres above Shuswap Lake, where they raised five children. His column, “Shuswap Passion,” appears every two weeks in either the Shuswap Market News or the Salmon Arm Observer. Additionally, his YouTube channel has over 100 videos, including many that showcase live music, skiing and Shuswap geography.