RCMP officers responding to the wildfire crisis in the Cariboo Chilcotin continue to be bowled over by the generosity of area residents.
“I have to say we’ve been pretty humbled by the warm response we’ve been receiving in some of these small communities,” said Const. James Mason.
Mason, one of the some-two hundred extra police officers in the area assisting with the emergency, said members coming back to Williams Lake at the end of their shifts share countless stories of neighbours helping neighbours and residents going out of their way to assist the RCMP.
“In general, our members have been so impressed with the communities around here,” said Mason, himself a visiting officer from Mission.
“I think we may have a few more police officers now considering applying for a posting in some of these small towns.”
Mason said one example of that caring spirit was on Friday evening when an evacuation order was issued for the Tatla Lake region and officers arrived to conduct door to door notifications of the evacuation order.
At approximately 2 a.m., police were speaking with one resident, when he inquired as to the fuel status of the RCMP vehicles. Dave Wright, who also happened to be the owner of the only gas station in Tatla Lake, put off evacuating his personal belongings and opened up the station to make sure each RCMP vehicle had a full tank of fuel to continue with the evacuation order. Only after this, did the shop owner returned to his residence to pack up his belongings and leave town, Mason said.
“That alone was a very generous act,” he said. “But then that night the RCMP were also joined by ten Tatla Lake Search and Rescue volunteers who unselfishly offered their time, ensuring each resident was given as much time as possible to make arrangements to evacuate.”
Christina Zintl, who has lived in Tatla Lake for 20 years and purchased the Graham Inn only eight months ago, has also been doing what she can during the wildfires and is staying open throughout the evacuation order feeding equipment operators fighting the fires, police and the army.
“It’s not been the season I expected to have,” Zintl told the Tribune Monday of the economic hardships caused by the closure of Highway 20 at the end of June with the Sheep Creek washout, followed by the ongoing wildfire state of emergency. “But I like helping out where I can help out.”
For Zintl, that means keeping the meals coming morning, noon and night for whomever needs it. Zintl initially had a contract with the BC Wildfire Service to feed crews however the government let that contract run out after getting the Puntzi Lake Fire Camp up and running.
Zintl continues to cook for equipment operators in the Tatla Lake area who are putting in upwards of 12 to 14 hour days hauling water and building fire guards and she just hopes the costs will be covered.
“After 12 hours of work, they don’t want to travel another hour to Puntzi to eat,” Zintl said. “Some of them are up at 3 a.m. working on (bulldozers). They shouldn’t even have to worry about that.”
Zintl said she feels safe staying in the area, but admits she was frightened Friday evening to see 200-250 foot flames which were being fanned by high winds. Those winds have since settled down again for the time being but the situation is precarious.
“It is so, so dry out here,” she said.
Mason agrees, noting many residents have risen to meet the challenges of the situation, such as the unidentified neighbour who let his own garage burn down as he assisted an elderly neighbour to put sprinklers on his home before returned to secure his own.
“We are hearing these stories all the time and they are just unbelievable.”