The Spokin Lake Road fire as seen from the west side of Dugan Lake. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Miocene Volunteer Fire Department looks back on wildfires

Fire Chief Stan Pogue looks back on a summer unlike any other

In all of his years living in the Cariboo, Micoene Volunteer Fire Chief Stan Pogue has never seen anything like the summer’s wildfires.

The Spokin Lake Road Fire, which threatened his community, was fought off successfully in the first go around on July 7 and 8, but would return to claim 10 homes and 26 structures the following weekend.

At about 2 p.m. Friday, July 7 Pogue received a call that there was fire in the area, about two kilometres in a straight line from the fire hall and working towards it.

Its cause is under investigation, but the timing shows it was ignited prior to the lightning storm coming through the region about 40 minutes later.

“Throughout Friday and Saturday crews did initial attack on the fire and it came close enough that we had to put perimeter and sprinkler systems around a few houses,” Pogue said, noting the next week crews spent going in behind people’s houses and in through fields, all day and night fighting the fire.

On Thursday July 13, the BC Wildfire Service reported the Spokin Lake Road fire was 480 hectares and 75 per cent contained.

Pogue told the Tribune that afternoon in an interview there were no structures lost, but you could hear in his voice that it could have been different.

“In our case, we have been really, really lucky,” he said at the time. “The wind died down a bit and the fire went in another direction. Unless things turn and start to come back in our direction, we are doing pretty good.”

Turn around they would.

A week later, when winds in the forecast materialized, they began fanning the flames the afternoon of Saturday, July 15.

“It literally just blew up and there was nothing that our department or the forestry could do at that point in time,” Pogue said during an interview in early November.

He described how the crews were on scene when the fire came up through a field, was crossing the road and starting to burn into the timber.

They had hoses and were getting ready to engage the pump when the BC Wildfire Service arrived in a helicopter telling the crew the fire had jumped and they better get out immediately.

Pogue said he called a meeting at the fire hall, and a decision was made to evacuate and save the trucks and equipment by taking everything to Horsefly.

“At that point in time, considering we had fires coming at us on three different sides and didn’t know what direction the fires were going to go, be it right or wrong I made the call,” he recalled.

“I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose any of my people. We were under evacuation order and were down to a 10-man department because a lot of our members, with their families, said they had to go, and they did.”

That evening, the Miocene crew was put up by members of the Horsefly Volunteer Fire Dept., the following morning Pogue was given access to the Horsefly School phone lines so he could try and find out the status of the fire.

By Monday morning, the department returned to the Miocene Fire Hall with all the equipment and spent the next five weeks on the fire, which continued to burn hot in several areas, eventually growing to 3,731 hectares.

It wasn’t until Aug. 15 that evacuated residents could return home when the Cariboo Regional District downgraded the evacuation order to an alert.

Cariboo Regional District Chair Al Richmond announced the alert with some caution saying there were still some active fire areas and residents were going back to “quite a bit of losses.”

“People in the Spokin Lake area will see the impacts of fire firsthand, unlike Williams Lake people who did not see much,” he told the Tribune. “Out there they are definitely going to see a community that’s been hit very very hard.”

A bit of solace came for families at the end of October when deputy fire chief Norm Leslie opened up the Miocene Fire Hall for fire victims to come and choose one of 24 quilts lovingly made by members of the Horsefly Quilters Club.

“People need some comfort, they need some quilts,” quilter Lainie Pawlik told the Tribune that afternoon. “If you’re an artist you paint, and if you’re a quilter you sew. That’s just what we do.”

Pawlik said the overall goal was to provide some small comfort to people who have lost everything and for the families who visited the fire hall on Saturday, it seemed like that effort was truly appreciated.

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