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BC author - wildfire stories

Countless stories of heroism and compassion emerged from British Columbia's historic wildfire season, and one author now plans to document those experiences in a new book.

Award-winning, B.C.-based author Claudia Cornwall said her family experienced first-hand the fear of losing their cabin near 100 Mile House, as one of the largest fires of the season burned its way to their doorstep at the beginning of September.

The blaze, called the Elephant Hill fire, ignited on July 6 and charred more than 1,910 square kilometres in the following weeks.

Cornwall said the cabin, which has been in her husband's family for nearly 60 years, was evacuated on Aug. 30.

"We were really in the hands of Mother Nature at that point," she said. "There are so many good memories associated with the cabin.... It was just devastating to think it might be gone."

She said they were ultimately lucky, and the winds shifted in time to save the property.

But the same blaze destroyed many other homes, as well structures and farmland, and Cornwall said she wanted help share the "admirable" and even "heroic" actions many people took to support one another through the crisis.

"These are very resilient people," she said.

Cornwall is experienced in writing non-fiction, having won a 1996 B.C. Book Prize for her second book, "Letter from Vienna." She said the wildfire story will be different from her past works, with a focus on whole communities of people rather than individuals or experts.

She said the book will likely begin retelling the events of July 6 and 7, when many of the worst fires that would plague the province for the rest of the season were started.

Roughly 65,000 people were evacuated through the season, as fires ripped through 12,000 square kilometres of land.

Cornwall said she's heard of a grocer who stayed open until 3 a.m. one night to hand out sandwiches to evacuees who spent hours on the road to reach safety. Other people opened up their homes to strangers, as well as their families and pets.

One man told Cornwall about his cabin on Pressy Lake, which had been in the family for four generations but was lost in the flames.

"It was this wonderful treasure he handed down to his kids, and it's gone," she said. "You can rebuild, but if the forest all around you is gone, it's quite a different situation."

Many people are still coping with the trauma of losing their homes or livelihoods, she said.

"People are really, really struggling," she said. "Oftentimes, when I talk to people on the phone or I'm with people, they're crying."

With concerns there could be more similarly severe wildfire seasons in the future, Cornwall said her book will also explore solutions to better prepare and mitigate fires.

"There are things we can do, even though climate change is there," she said.

Cornwall said she is still speaking with residents throughout the Cariboo region to collect their experiences, and although a publishing date has not yet been set, she plans to complete the book by the end of summer.



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