Smoke above 100 Mile House during the 2017 Wildfires. File photo

100 Mile resident reminisces on being evacuated during 2017 wildfires

‘We pulled it together and we are still here now’

Thick clouds of smoke had replaced the blue sky shining above 100 Mile House, ash fell to the ground and loud chop-like sounds of helicopters could be heard from above.

“It was like a war-zone,” said 39-year-old Anita Collins Best, a resident who’s lived in 100 Mile since the age of five. “Something you’d see in a movie.”

It has been two years since the town was evacuated. The official order came roughly around 8:45 p.m. on July 9.

“It was real and it was scary,” said Best. “It was a major thing.”

Related: 22 million trees slated for Cariboo Chilcotin areas burned in 2017 wildfires

Best said she had already been on alert before actually being told – keeping up with news and social media. At the time, she was living right in town at one of the apartment complexes. She had company over. There was a knock on the door and when she opened it, she was told to be on alert – get ready to go. Immediately after, Best began packing her family’s belongings.

“You’re trying not to freak out and keep a calm head because you’re trying to pack your things up but at the same time, my hands were shaking,” said Best. “I was thinking this was crazy. You’re trying to decide what is important because it has to fit in your car.”

Best and her children went to Kamloops, where they stayed with a long-time friend of hers for two weeks. It wasn’t until they arrived in Kamloops, that it all started to feel real.

“I was in tears more than once,” said Best. “My kids would ask ‘mom, did you pack this?’ and I didn’t because I couldn’t or I forgot about it.”

After two weeks, people were allowed to go back to 100 Mile and return to their homes – arriving to a town still draped with a cloud of smoke.

“We knew things wouldn’t be normal like they were,” said Best. “It was still scary, we were coming back to be on notice again. I still have stuff packed up in bags that I haven’t unpacked. It’s something that will forever be in our heads.”

Related: New report on 2017 wildfires calls for better coordination with First Nations

Best said that experience changed the way she views things. Even though she saw natural disasters on the news in other places, she never thought something like that could have happened here.

“I think the more we talk about this, the more it can become a good memory and we can find the positive aspects of it. It’s something we don’t want to go through again, but it’s real and it happened,” said Best. “We want to forget about it but we need to be aware of it and remember what happened.”

Two years later, Best is reminded of the community she lives in and all that she is thankful for.

“We pulled it together and we are still here now,” said Best. “It’s good to remember what we went through and survived.”

According to the B.C. Wildfire Service, the Gustafsen fire was estimated at 5,000 hectares. Resources in 100 Mile House included roughly 107 firefighters, 14 helicopters and 30 pieces of heavy equipment.

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