Clancy Wright said he will never forget the roaring sound of the White Lake wildfire when it jumped the Fraser River on Saturday, July 15 and started climbing up the hillside toward his home northwest of Williams Lake.
He and his wife Debbie Wright live above the Fraser River off the Soda Creek Road, which has been devastated by wildfire.
When the evacuation order came down around 6 p.m. that evening, Debbie left for Lac La Hache with her mom and her mom’s husband who live on the same property.
Clancy, who stayed behind to see what he could do to protect the property, started receiving phone calls from friends urging him to leave.
“There were trees candling 200 feet in the air and I could see the fire moving rapidly up the hill so I got out,” he said.
The fire crossed the river in several places and came up the hill in under 50 minutes, he said.
Clancy and Debbie believed their home was gone until their neighbour George Beltrame called them in Lac La Hache a few days after the fire asking if he could put his horses on their property because his own corral fences were burned.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Debbie said.
The fact the fire missed their home is surreal, the Wrights said.
Portions of fences, nearby trees, grass and stumps burned, even a counter top that was leaning against a tree melted while 10 metres away their camper was spared.
“The fire moved in fingers and veins, it seemed going whichever way it wanted,” Clancy said. “Yet it didn’t even touch our camper.”
About a quarter of a kilometre down the road from the Wrights’ it’s a different story.
There are long stretches where every single tree is burned and the forest floor is covered in ash. On Saturday afternoon there was a hot spot smouldering from a mound on the ground and further down smoke was rising from the top of burned out tree.
Beltrame and his partner Debbie Lloyd’s home was spared, but they lost a large workshop and two greenhouses.
“Trees all around us burned and the fire came right up to our back porch,” Lloyd said as she wiped back tears. “George hiked up four kilometres behind our place and there has been so much burned up there.”
On Saturday, Beltrame was falling danger trees with a chainsaw alongside the road they use to access their property.
“If we get a wind event in here some of the trees are going to come down,” he said. “I’ve been picking up a lot of glass too because the fire shattered bottles and all that broken glass is dangerous for wildlife.”
The Wrights said at least seven homes and three outbuildings were lost in the area, including the home belonging to their good friends Don and Glenda Stratton.
Don and Glenda had lived in their home for 25 years, Don said.
Most of the blazed remains had been removed by Saturday, but Don pointed out the furnace and a few dishes in the ash.
“The house was completely destroyed but our greenhouse is intact,” he said with a shrug.
The Strattons did not have house insurance, similar to many other people who have lost homes due to the wildfires, and the Wrights are hoping the community will step forward to help people like the Strattons out.
“We hope to build Don and Glenda something to live in by winter and help others who have lost their homes,” Debbie said. “If anyone has building supplies or even money toward building supplies that would be great. My number is 250-305-8232.”
Several people have wondered if the BC Wildfire Service was doing a controlled burn the day the fire crossed the Fraser River, however, the Cariboo Fire Centre confirmed that was not the case.
“On July 15, high winds and an increase in fire behaviour on the White Lake fire caused the fire to spot across the Fraser River, igniting fuels on the east side of the river,” Cariboo Fire Centre information officer Alison Martin told the Tribune Monday.
The Wrights said they are grateful for the efforts of many people, including Lee Todd who flew over the area with his helicopter and warned Clancy the fire was coming and to Wayne and Fred Ball for going out with equipment to help tackle hot spots in the days following July 15. They also thanked members of the Ball family for bringing the Wrights a meal when they returned home.