British Columbia Burning is a new book written by a B.C.-based journalist, Bethany Lindsay. The book, as its title suggests, is about the 2017 British Columbia wildfires and the stories of the people caught up in it.
“I’ve been reporting in B.C. for more than a decade and I can’t really remember anything that comes close to the wildfire season just in terms of what a pressing emergency it was and how long the chaos kind of kept up,” said Lindsay. “It was kind of an average fire season before July 7. Then July 7 happened and we had 200 fires starting within 24 hours and that kind of set the stage for how things would be for like two whole months. Every day it seemed like there was a new emergency.”
Lindsay, who was compiling and reporting information from the sidelines in Vancouver, decided it was a story that needed to be in print.
She set out to find the people who had a story to tell, such as Angie Thorne from the Ashcroft Indian Band, who watched her community, including her home, engulfed by flames from an overlooking picnic bench. The story of the Tl’etinqox First Nation’s refusal to evacuate and their fight against the fire under the guidance of Chief Joe Alphonse was also told.
“I wanted to tell the stories through the eyes of different people who experienced it first-hand, so that would be people who were evacuated and lost their homes, firefighters, officials and the people who stayed behind to protect their communities,” Lindsay said. “It was really finding those people who had the great stories and reaching out to them and letting them tell the story.”
She reached out to people who had been featured in other media publications throughout that summer and friends of friends to collect the stories of the people who would frame the story she had to tell. She said everyone she met had an incredible story.
One of her favourite stories to record was of Clinton grocer and owner of Budget Foods, Jinwoo Kim.
“Jinwoo basically told me about how from the beginning their town was basically cut off because the highway was closed off north and south and all they really had was the one winding road through the mountains, the Pavilion Road, that led to Lillooet,” explained Lindsay. “From the very beginning, he made it his personal responsibility to make sure the town was stocked up with food and gas so he would make these treacherous runs over the Pavilion Road to get supplies.”
When the town was finally evacuated, Kim decided to stay behind to help supply the firefighters and emergency workers to help supply the town with his brother. They would also do home drop-offs.
The writer said Kim told her that he didn’t make any money that summer but the community was so crucial to his life and he wanted to make sure he paid back the town any way he could.
Lindsay also spent a lot of time doing research on wildfire science and picking the brains of experts of what they already knew and what they learned throughout the summer of 2017 in regards to wildfires and climate change. She also went to Environment Canada to learn about the temperature and moisture records to learn what led to the disastrous event.
She read the most recent books on wildfires including Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future by Edward Struzik and Chasing Smoke: A Wildfire Memoir by Aaron Williams. The latter is written by an experienced wildfire firefighter.
The book took her four months to write while working full time, from September to December. Collecting all the photos (done by photo editor Kelly Sinoski) took another two months.
Lindsay said she believes the book turned out well and liked how the human interest stories blended well with the science.
“I’m happy with how it turned out,” she said. “I really think the photos are really beautiful and they add this extra element to the story to really bring home how severe this was.”