Skeetchestn Kukpi7 Darrel Draney says lands scorched by Sparks Lake fire, carrying heavy impacts

Valley won't look the same

As Skeetchestn Indian Band community members prepare to return home for the first time in a month, Kukpi7 Darrel Draney warned that things will not look the same.

On Sunday, the Skeetchestn Indian Band announced they would be rescinding an evacuation order in place since July 3rd, and allowing residents to return home on Wednesday morning.

No structures have been lost on the Skeetchestn reserve as a result of the Sparks Lake wildfire, but Draney said the surrounding lands have been scorched, a heavy impact on the community.

“Their community will not look the same as when they left. The fire came swooping down into our valley,” Draney said.

“We come from a people we can say are 80 to 90 per cent hunters and gatherers. If there was a message to say to them, a lot of the berry crops and a lot of the medicines have been burnt, and a lot of our game have moved on.”

Draney said the grazing lands for cattle have also been razed.

“The cattle will have to find other means of getting fed, because there is no grasslands for the summer grass, or fall grass for them as well.”

He added they still need to open up some of the backcountry areas, as crews haven’t yet had a chance to assess some roads for dangerous trees, or rocks and logs blocking access to certain areas.

Draney said there are some members of the community that may not be able to come home yet due to heavy wildfire smoke hanging in the area.

“We’re making arrangements for them to stay away a little bit longer, and really look after themselves out there in the housing that’s supplied for them,” he said.

“You could cut the air with a knife because of the smoke because we live in such a tight valley.”

Joanne Hammond, assistant CEO for Skeetchestn Natural Resources Corp., said there are mixed feelings that come with rescinding the evacuation order.

“We’re obviously happy to be able to bring everybody home to a community that’s been protected, but we're still in the middle of wildfire season,” Hammond said.

“There's some anxiety, to be honest, about the likelihood of additional fires or the existing fires picking up or switching direction, that type of thing, that would still be a concern. We still have a couple of months to go before we're going to be able to completely let our guard down.”

Draney agrees, saying there’s still a small chance Sparks could flank Skeetchestn band lands, and there are also concerns about the Tremont Creek wildfire burning to the south.

“In Tunkwa park and in the Tunkwa valley, we have some forest tenure in the area, and again, a lot of our harvesting and cultural values are in that area that is a big concern to protect,” he said.

He said they also want to look out for their neighbours in the Tunkwa Lake and Logan Lake areas.

“The fire is headed in a beeline for Logan Lake. So we're very concerned about our neighbours," Draney said.
Draney said Skeetchestn firefighters and crew members are still out helping to fight the wildfires.

“We’re working with BCWS on many fronts to try to help them, and help them help us. We have lots of workers out there, just because we’re open this up, they don’t stop working,” he said.

“They are working on the front lines on the Tremont fire, whether they are initial attack crews or mop-up crews, or equipment officers or supervisors. We have many different folks still out there fighting the fire, from Skeetchestn, helping the red shirts, walking side by side with them.”

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