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BC is Burning

August 7, 2017

Holy smoke.

A week ago, we woke up on Quadra Island to what we initially thought was a lovely misty morning that would clear as the sun burned through, but turned out to be smoke from the wildfires that are consuming much of BC right now. The smoke was so thick that we could not see the mountains, normally majestic and clear, and could just barely make out the Cortes Island shore across from the sand spit.

Three weeks back, on our way north we stopped in this exact spot. The sky was a brilliant blue, the breeze smelled clean, with hints of salt and cedar. I hiked through the woods to the point of the spit and back, filling my lungs with the clean, fresh, BC air.


Rebecca Spit from our boat a few weeks ago. Desolation Sound beyond.

Our reason for stopping here at this point was for me to see an eye doctor so that I could get to the bottom of a particularly tenacious case of conjunctivitis that I had been dealing with for five weeks. We took a taxi across the island, hopped on a ferry and spent the afternoon in Campbell River. On the ferry back, I strolled the car deck, as I had been advised to do by a local, asking if anyone was going to Heriot Bay (where we were anchored). One woman happily offered to give us a ride and I climbed in the back seat with two of her kids.

Courtney and her family are mandatory evacuees from Kamloops, where one of the wild fires was within a block of her house when they left. She, her husband, and their four children were staying in a home on the island, offered by a generous soul, until it was safe to go back. She was happy to help us out after so many had stepped up to help her family. As touched as I was by her story, the human condition is that unless we are in a situation, we don’t really know what it feels like.

That was nearly three weeks ago. (I saw her car parked outside the grocery store on our return trip last week so I knew they were still there).

And now, with the smoke surrounding us and reaching as far south as Seattle where the air quality has reached the worst in the country, rivaling L.A., it is no longer a problem belonging to someone else, “those poor Canadians.” It is in our faces literally.


From this vantage point, we can normally see an impressive mountain range

My house is not burning. I still don’t know what Courtney is going through. But the air is thick with smoke and each breath makes me think about what is happening to my lungs. I can’t exercise and hike like I normally do on these islands because of the health advisories against doing so. A friend reported some joggers in Nanaimo looking like each breath was their last. The sky, normally blue at this time of year, is gray. The sun, while shining, appears as an orange orb in the sky. And the moon is amber. Every night.


Ships emerging from the smoky haze.

Yesterday, Dan bought a double can respirator for me to wear from time to time to take a break from the bad air (always was a romantic, that guy). And he bought us two dust masks just in case. There have been times when I have felt a quiet panic. No where to run, no where to hide. It’s all around us and until the wind blows it away, or BC manages to put out the fires, we are stuck in it.

Yesterday we sat on the beach amidst summer time fun: kids on skim boards, teens flirting and playing volleyball, swimming, frisbee-throwing, partying fun. They did not let the smoke stop them. One guy walked by us and said, “What a day! What a beach! What a life!” We talked about our fortune in knowing that our homes were not burning to the ground. On his way back he offered us “an exceedingly cold beer!” which we happily accepted. His attitude turned mine around. I shed the feeling of panic, the trapped feeling and instead drank a cold beer on a smoky beach and started smiling again.

I choose to use this wee bit of suffering, this minor inconvenience, as an opportunity for solidarity with the people who have lost everything. The smoke will clear and our home will be fine. But sharing it on even a minor level has created empathy for Courtney and others in her position.


Sunset over Hornby Island two years ago…


Sunset over Hornby Island this year…







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  1. Brendan Philip permalink

    Irene, these photos and your story are beautiful, even though you’re smoked in. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Joan permalink

    Holy smoke is right! Hoping for all – you and Dan included – that the fires are put out soon and the smoke clears!

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