The authors of a new account on the 2017 wildfires will be visiting the South Cariboo Library 100 Mile House Branch on Oct. 1 for a slideshow and book signing.
“When you live through something like that and you’re a writer it’s automatic to write it down,” said Chris Czajkowski, one of the two authors. “I thought I’d maybe get three chapters down for a future book, but of course, it just exploded. There was so much to say, also my neighbour had such an exciting story in his fire and that’s why I wanted to combine the two [accounts].”
The neighbour is Fred Reid, with Captured by Fire being his debut book.
Despite being a neighbour, the two writers are about 100 kilometres apart, with Czajkowski located in Kleena Kleene (about halfway between Williams Lake and Bella Coola), and Reid a little more west.
Czajkowski is a seasoned writer and has written more than 10 books and is used to working alone, but said putting her account together with Reid’s was worth it, in order to get the story out.
“He’s been playing at writing for a long time,” she said of Reid. “He also did a lot of Facebook posts during the fire, which were real cliffhangers. I thought this was great. He had the ability to express himself in words. It only needed sorting out and fitting together and that was a big job.”
Reid came up with the title, and the cover photo is a shot of his property which was flanked by fire in Mid August of 2017. The title is an accurate description of the situation of the Kleena Kleene.
Czajkowski was in Williams Lake when the fires started on July 7 and was blocked from getting back until she managed to find some logging roads around the Lee’s Corner fire. She described that experience exciting in itself.
“Then three days after I was home, the Kleena Kleene fire blew up quite badly and the police came to evacuate me,” she said.
Instead of going to Prince George, as she was supposed to, she went to Bella Coola and spent the first couple of weeks driving back and forth to her property to water the garden, but always returned to her new refuge as the smoke was thick.
Eventually, it rained and the evacuation order was downgraded to an alert, and she returned to her home. However, when it was upgraded to order again, and the situation became wilder, Czajkowski stayed behind. As did most of the neighbours, like Reid.
“Fred’s fire started on the same day, but it was 10 kilometres below him and at first he wasn’t really concerned but the principal winds in the area are from the south-west. He was exactly northeast of this fire and, of course, it eventually started to come quickly and then it stalled for a bit and then, on Aug. 3, it blew right up. It was very dramatic,” she said. “He and his wife stayed on their homestead. They had very wet meadows surrounding them but the fire actually went on both sides of them on the hill and started to threaten their neighbour who was just five kilometres up the valley. It was quite a while before things calmed down enough for them. Even after things calmed down there was flames and smoke everywhere we drove.”
Czajkowski said her fire was either one and a half or two kilometres from her property and that she could see the “brown bits” that were close. The Kleena Kleene fire was at its worst on Aug. 18.
“The wind was screaming like hurricane force from that direction, so of course the fire could jump ahead very easily… The winds finally died down [and] I walked below my place to an abandoned homestead and found all the charred leaves in the grass. The leaves had jumped two kilometres and jumped the highway and river that was in between me and the fire. If any of those leaves had still been hot they would have lit the grass, then I wouldn’t have survived it.”
It won’t be the first time Czajkowski has been in 100 Mile House for a book signing. But it adds another dimension to this tour, as she knows the people here can relate.
“I mean 100 Mile House and Williams Lake people went through all this brouhaha with the fires and everything as well,” she said, however, she mentioned people here weren’t quite as isolated as the people of the Kleena Kleene. “A friend of mine from Williams Lake read it [the book] and said he had no idea how isolated we were up here when the fires started, because for a while we had no internet, no phone and of course, we don’t have cell phones out here… Even the radiophones weren’t working very well. It was chaotic and we just had to rely on our own resources. Chilcotin people are used to doing that and it was no big deal.”
Czajkowski and Reid will present their book, along with a slideshow, at the library on Oct. 1, beginning at 6:30 p.m.