Kitimat’s Shaman Earl and Matt Sidor’s plans to meet up for drink were put on hold as the two were forced to flee in the face of out of control wildfires.
The two just happened to be in 100 Mile House at the same time, Sidor on vacation with his family, visiting his parents and Earl having moved there two months before to advance his career through Save-On-Foods.
Earl started his career working for the group in Kitimat, which is where he met Sidor, the Kitimat store’s assistant branch manager. Earl eventually moved to Terrace where he worked for a year and a half before the opportunity came up in 100 Mile House.
“My manager in Terrace told me it would be a good career move, so I packed up and left,” said Earl.
On Monday, July 3, Earl was working the graveyard shift at the store in 100 Mile, and when he returned home on Tuesday morning he saw a massive plume of smoke across the highway on the horizon.
“It was still far away not to have to worry,” said Earl.
The situation steadily deteriorated day to day, the smoke getting closer to the town as the wildfires advanced steadily.
On Thursday, July 6, 100 Mile House was put under evacuation alert and Earl started to get worried, but carried on going to work to help keep the store open, which he said was important for locals to feel a sense of normality amongst the chaos.
He said he and Sidor had intended meeting to catch up on old times while Sidor was in town visiting his parents, but it became clear to him that it wasn’t going to happen.
“I filled my vehicle with gas and threw a few things in the back, waiting to get word to evacuate,” said Earl.
Finally, at 9.30 p.m. on Sunday night, he heard banging on his door and opened up to find an employee from the district standing there with an evacuation notice.
“I jumped in my vehicle and headed out of town. I left a whole lot of stuff behind – I just hope it’s there when I get back,” said Earl.
He drove north, through the night, until reaching Prince George, where he registered as an evacuee.
“The guy there told me that if I have family I should rather go and stay with them, so I got back into the car and carried on driving, all the way to Kitimat,” said Earl.
He arrived at his mother’s house in Kitimat on Monday morning, just after 11 a.m., exhausted but grateful to be out of danger. Having not gotten any sleep since leaving 100 Mile House, he slept that night and most of the next day.
Sidor, his wife and children, were visiting his parents and watched the situation deteriorate until the evacuation alert was issued on Thursday. On Friday night they helped their parents pack up their valuables, ready for when the evacuation notice was issued.
On Saturday Sidor started to panic – his truck was low on gas and none of the gas stations in 100 Mile House had any gas to sell. The gas supply trucks were by this time unable to make it through to town from the south.
“That night a group of fire fighters moved into my parents’ house. We could hear choppers flying overhead the whole night. We didn’t get much sleep,” said Sidor.
On Sunday morning the highway north of 100 Mile House opened up, allowing people to evacuate. Somehow, a gas supply truck made it through to the town and Sidor was able to fill up the truck.
“My parents evacuated on Sunday afternoon to Kamloops to my brother’s, which was easier for them to do,” said Sidor. “They have been told it will be at least a week before they can go back.”
Sidor and his family headed north, shocked by the scenes of devastation along the route, power lines down everywhere, kilometre upon kilometre of scorched, smouldering earth. When they approached Williams Lake the smoke thickened, the horizon ablaze, progress slowed down to a crawl in the poor visibility.
“I couldn’t see more than two car lengths in front of me. I have never seen a situation where there were that many fires,” said Sidor.
He said he is very thankful that he and his family were able to make it out of 100 Mile House and back to Kitimat.
“My truck still stinks of smoke inside, and there’s a layer of ash on the dashboard,” said Sidor.
Until Earl can return to 100 Mile House, he will help out at the Save-On-Foods in Kitimat.