The Tl’etinqox (Anaham) First Nation are thankful their homes are still standing after Saturday’s wind and fire storm took direct aim at their community.
The Hanceville fire, which started July 7 and had already claimed some structures as well as Lee’s Corner store and thousands of hectares of forests between Tl’etinqox, Yunesit’in (Stone) First Nation and Riske Creek, was fanned by the same strong winds that wreaked havoc through the Cariboo Chilcotin July 15.
In a press release issued Sunday, Chief Joe Alphonse said crews of well-trained fire fighters, 125 of them First Nations, used every resource available to them to fight back and divert the fast moving inferno that stopped just prior to their community entrance, at the gas station along Highway 20.
“Our community would not be standing today had we heeded the RCMP order. Our new health care centre, new school, church, store and many homes may not be here today,” said Alphonse, who along with about 300 community members, including women and children, defied an evacuation order and stayed inside the community to protect it.
Since Saturday, however, all non-fire related personnel were relocated to facilities in neighbouring Tsilhqot’in communities and will remain there until the current threat subsides.
The Tl’etinqox community said they are grateful to all First Nations, provincial and out-of-province fire personnel who assisted in the effort to save the community.
“The Tl’etinqox people also want to thank the many volunteers who continue to provide food and assistance to our community,” stated the press release. “As a community, we ask our First Nation spiritual leaders to go into ceremony for all those affected by fires, and we appreciate all prayers sent our way.”
Just west of Tl’etinqox, fellow band member and rancher Harvey Petal said there were definitely a few close calls on Saturday after the fire jumped the Chilcotin River.
Petal said strong winds made the fire jump the river but helicopters with water buckets were there to assist ground crews in putting in out, while fire guards also helped stop the fire.
“We just need rain,” Petal told the Tribune via text messaging from his ranch Monday. “That will help.”
Petal said the wind was blowing southeast yesterday but the fire is still burning strong north near the Petal ranch. He has not had any cattle lost yet due to the fire.
The Petal family are second generation ranchers who also vowed to stay and fight the fires by any means possible.
About 40 minutes west of Tl’etinqox, the First Nations community of Tsi Del Del (Redstone), situated between the Hanceville-Riske Creek fire and the Kleena Kleene fire, continues to operate the Redstone Gas Bar.
Geraldine Guichon described the area as “very smokey” Tuesday, which has given her itchy eyes and a sore chest.
Guichon said the gas bar has remained open throughout the wildfire crisis in the Chilcotin with the use of a big generator to operate the gas pumps and store when the power is out.
“There are still some people who are stranded who need our services,” Guichon said, noting they have also been providing gas and supplies to the many fire crews working in the Chilcotin.