In the summer of 2014 Aaron Williams was inspired to write about his experiences as a firefighter.
It was the 31 year old’s ninth and what would become his final season working for the BC Wildfire Service and the writing exercise became a way for him to share an insider account of how a fire season unfolds physically, mentally and emotionally.
Eventually those musings became the basis for a book and this month Harbour Publishing is releasing – Chasing Smoke: A Wildfire Memoir – and Williams will read from the book at the Williams Lake Library on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. as part of a B.C. book tour.
“It’s been a nice way to commemorate what I think was a special thing to be a part of,” Williams told the Tribune. “I think I wrote it at the right time because I was on my way out and felt as if I was removed from the fire crew. I was still part of a crew, but it was really the first year I was able to stand back and witness from a distance.”
During the time he began writing the book he was working out of Smithers, where he worked most of his firefighting career with the Telkwa Rangers.
He wrote every night after work for about 20 minutes before bed.
If he was at the base in Telkwa he would type on his computer but if he was out on the fire lines, then he wrote by hand.
By the end of the summer he had a “very rough” draft, which he rewrote that fall and a bunch of more times before he started sending it to to various publishers.
“Eighteen months after I sent it to Harbour they contacted me to say they were interested in publishing it,” Williams said.
Williams grew up in Prince Rupert, B.C. on the north coast. After high school he attended Kings College in Halifax, N.S.
He has completed degrees in English and journalism and is now working on an MFA in creative non-fiction writing.
For several years he has been writing on the side and has been published as a freelancer in The Globe and Mail, Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Vancouver Observer.
Chasing Smoke is his first book and Williams said he has a hunch in the future he will look back and be a little embarrassed about the quality of the writing, but at the same time he said the emotion comes through in a way he may not be able to capture in the future.
This summer Williams took a leave from his job with Air Canada in Halifax and returned to firefighting for a few weeks in B.C.
He assisted on the Spokin Lake Road fire for three weeks at the end of July and on the Kleena Kleene fire for two weeks in September.
“I wasn’t working for the ministry,” he said of the summer’s firefighting. “I joined a contract crew at first and then my friend and I made our own contract crew. We were building guard and cutting hose trails.”
While his experiences in the Cariboo-Chilcotin are not in the book, perhaps he will have some insights to share of the 2017 fires when he does the reading in Williams Lake.
Williams is presently working on a second book – this time about the logging industry.
He said he has interviewed many older loggers in hopes of understanding their lives and their work.