The first group of students arrived at Gavin Lake Forest Education Centre Monday, something that was not a guarantee when wildfires were burning not too far away from the camp less than a month ago, said camp manager Mike Tudor.
“It was touch and go, but we didn’t lose any of our school program,” Tudor said Monday before students arrived from Quesnel and Williams Lake. “The evacuation alert was lifted on Sept. 4 and we were scheduled to start Sept. 11.”
Originally 24 classes were booked to attend the school program this fall, however, there have been four cancellations.
“Cancellations have come from places like 100 Mile House and School District 74 down in Lytton, Clinton and Cache Creek that got hit pretty hard,” he said. “The teachers feel the kids are not ready for a road trip quite yet.”
Tudor, however, said he was confident it should be easy to fill in those slots with other classes once the word gets out.
During July and August, there were about five fires burning south and a couple burning north of Gavin Lake.
“The one that they just put out not that long ago was a little over a kilometre from here and one of the fires north was only about half a kilometre away,” Tudor said.
After a fire was discovered in the UBC Research Forest which surrounds Gavin Lake on July 8, a crew from UBC arrived soon to start fighting the fire and Tudor and his family stepped up to help.
“We got into the support role, because that’s what we do,” Tudor said.
His wife, Jenny Howell, told the Tribune everyone kicked in to help by rounding up food as best they could to feed about 22 people.
Their teenage son Ben even went fishing and caught fish to feed everyone.
“At that stage it felt a bit apocalyptic,” Howell said. “There were road blocks and we did not even know if we could get gasoline.”
When the evacuation order came down on July 15 for their area, everyone left the camp.
Eventually the UBC crew received a permit to return to fight the fire in the research forest and Tudor went in to cook for them.
Howell and their son returned once the order was lifted, but when the area received a second evacuation order on Aug. 12, she and Ben left to stay in nearby Big Lake.
By then the camp had become a staging area for BC Wildfire Service crews working on fires and there were helicopters landing regularly for meetings and water tenders coming in to retrieve water from the lake.
“The second time around it was different,” Howell said. “There was smoke all around, but by then we had maps so we knew where the fires were and we were in constant communication with the BC Wildfire Service.”
Getting to know some of the Australians and New Zealanders that were part of the incident management team that met at Gavin Lake with firefighters and equipment operators each morning was a positive aspect, she added.
“It has actually been quite fun getting to know people from all over the world.”
Howell said they are very appreciative of everything that was done and how informed they were kept during the fires.
“It is amazing how much work they’ve done out there,” she added. “My parents were here visiting from Europe and were so impressed.”
Throughout the wildfires, helicopters and water tenders have been picking up water from Gavin Lake as mop up continues on the Prouton Lakes and Gavin Lake fires.
Meanwhile, Big Lake Volunteer Fire and Rescue Chief Joel Bruneski said his community’s fire hall became a BC Wildfire Service command centre from July 9 until Aug. 21.
“Our fire department moved out on Aug. 14, but they stayed another week,” Bruneski said.
Looking back, Bruneski commented he is still absolutely amazed at how everyone came together.
“There’s been a lot of good that came out of a stressful situation,” he said. “We have a potluck planned for next weekend to get everyone together, show some photographs and show our appreciation. There were no lives lost, very few injuries and nothing major. I’m really proud of the community and the fire department.”
Summer time is when Gavin Lake normally generates the most of its revenue, but because of the fire season some weddings and reunions were cancelled, along with a big fiddle camp that is normally hosted there every summer.
Tudor, however, is optimistic.
“We will bounce back.”