They aren’t on the front lines fighting the fires, but sisters Amber Christopher and Angel Smith are playing an integral part in the ongoing battle in the Cariboo.
The two women are currently working at the Canim Lake Band to prepare and serve home-cooked meals to firefighters after a long day of working the line. Smith said she loves the community and the land at Canim Lake, where her parents and grandparents took care of them, and helping out the community is a natural thing to do.
“Everyone has a job and you just jump in there and do it,” Smith, 33, said. “I have a lot of close family who are firefighters. My brother, uncles, cousins … and it’s scary to think of them putting their lives on the line to make our community safe. If this was my brother’s crew, no question, I would just be here serving them lunches. It takes a lot to do what they do. I’m here because I’m not out there.”
The sisters have been working since July 12 out of Canim Lake Band’s gym. They started out by joining community members for a big shopping trip to Save-on-Foods. This was to ensure the Canim Lake Band could fulfill its contract with BC Wildfire Services to feed a crew of machine operators and firefighters working in the area.
Christopher, Smith and the other paid volunteers make their breakfast, pack a lunch and then cook their supper, often working from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“I’m always trying to keep busy. I don’t like just sitting down and I always feel guilty when I’m not doing something,” Christopher, 30, said. “It’s long days but seeing how grateful they are for a homecooked meal is pretty nice.”
The women have made deli sandwiches, lasagna, pasta salad, chili, hashbrowns, pancakes, bacon ‘n eggs and roast beef and have more dishes planned. Smith said their meals consist of high protein and high carb foods to help make up for all the calories the firefighters are burning every day.
With two kids at home, Smith said she’s had to juggle her mom duties, waking up at 4 a.m. to come in and cook. When her daughter Eva, 9, found out what her mom was doing, she offered to come help, which was really awesome to see, Smith said.
The sisters say they get their community-mindedness from their mom, Pamela Theodore, who has been working 12 to 14 hour days to help run Canim Lake’s Emergency Operation Centre since the wildfires started. In addition to monitoring the local fire situation, Christopher said the Band’s EOC also provided the community with air filters and air conditioners for elders during the heatwave.
“I have to remind her every little while to stop and eat,” Christopher said.
The sisters attended Eliza Archie Memorial School where they learned Shuswap from their grandmother Elsie Archie and great aunt Antoinette Archie. They’d later use what they were taught to get jobs at SD27 working as First Nation’s cultural support workers. As a precaution, they helped their grandmother evacuate from Canim Lake on Wednesday, July 14 to Chilliwack.
“My godchild is driving her and she just got her L so she’s kind of worried about it but I think she’ll be alright,” Christopher said.
This isn’t the first time the sisters have given back to the community. During the flooding in 2020, Christopher and her boyfriend Gavin Boudreau volunteered to make sandbags to protect the community. Christopher said that was also a stressful time and brought up memories of similar flooding she experienced as a child in the late 90s.
“One of the things I remember actually is Angel, because the water was up to our knees, saying ‘you shouldn’t have to walk in the water’. So she carried me on her back through the water,” Christopher recalled.
Smith said she and Christopher have always been close and make a good team no matter what they do together.
As to how long they’ll be cooking, both Christopher and Smith said it’s day by day and depends on how the fire and evacuation orders proceed. According to the schedule of their fellow cook, Veronica Archie, they have a menu planned for up to three weeks.