Newsletter #144: July, 2017
© Chris Harris. All rights reserved.
EVACUATION NEWSLETTER – Part I
This is a milestone newsletter, the 144th monthly photographic Newsletter; completing TWELVE CONSECUTIVE YEARS without missing a single month! Enjoy!
On the evening of July 7th , during an emotional moment, I made a photograph of our home, not knowing if I would ever see it again.
Fortunately, due to some heroic firefighting and miraculous changes in wind direction, our home still stands and our family is here to enjoy it once again. This milestone Newsletter contains a short story of our evacuation adventure.
Our goal at the Chris Harris Gallery is to share photographic adventures and inspire others in the creative process. Please share this Newsletter with friends. We appreciate your interest and continued support for my work.
- EVACUATION: Part I
It all began just east of 100 Mile House
The fire had started on July 6th, but it seemed small and harmless. On the morning of July 7th, everything still seemed completely under control. Helicopters and firefighting crews were working on the fire and there appeared no imminent danger. Rita and Teresa headed north to the Peace country to ‘Paddle for the Peace’ while I headed south to Vancouver to purchase supplies for my upcoming photographic adventures in the West Chilcotin. All was good.
As I drove into Cache Creek, a huge plume of smoke rose into the sky ahead of me. I knew a wildfire fire had just started and my route would probably be blocked. At that very moment, Birgit called me on my cell from the office to tell me I had better return. “All hell was breaking loose”, she said, the forest fire was out of control and heading north driven by hot dry winds. I returned home immediately.
Water and retardant bombers were now hard at work
Suddenly, there were dozens of planes fighting this fire
Birgit returned to her home to pack her belongings, and I slowly started to do the same. As the smoke intensified, I would periodically drive a few hundred metres down the road from our home for a better view of the fire. I could easily see it was growing in size and moving rapidly.
It was now swiftly travelling north, west and east
A home can be seen just ahead of the flames
One last look before it was time to leave home
I now realized this was serious. With each reconnaissance trip to the corner I made a few more images, and thought of a few more belongings I should pack into the car. Stronger and stronger emotions began to sweep through me as I realized the very real threat of losing everything Rita and I had created over the past fifteen years.
The most emotional image I have ever made
Two gentlemen arrived to tell me I had better evacuate. I called to my dog Duggan and he jumped into the tiny space I had left for him. Together we drove to the road and closed the gate. It was at that moment that I truly realized what was happening. A huge emotional swell swept through me; I shed a tear as I made one last photograph of our home. While explaining things to Duggan, we drove away.
Home away from home
I drove to our good ranching friends Helen and Gus Horn, where they provided me with a wonderful small cabin to spend the night. After sharing a few ‘stiff ones’ with Gus, I slept like a log, only to wake up wondering where I was.
This was a powerful moment for me
I took my camera and went for a walk. The smoke had changed direction and was now moving south toward the Horn’s ranch. Out in the field I saw an old water carrier. How ironic. It has become one of my favourite images.
100 Mile Ranch, and 100 Mile House beyond
Life was now very surreal. I cached all my possessions on the bed and drove back into 100 Mile House to fill up with gas and get food supplies before they ran out.
100 Mile House
Firefighting crews were working long hours, 100 Mile House
The town was filled with smoke. Helicopters, Air Tractors (skimmers), firefighters, and police cars were everywhere, while evacuees were tensely registering at Emergency Services. It was then I realized that a previous road block had been lifted, so I drove home again to pick up a few more possessions I had forgotten the first time.
I was in constant touch with Rita and Teresa. Each conversation held directions on what else to grab and where in the house they were to be found. In each conversation Rita and I would express our confidence that our house would survive. Also encouraging were the messages of hope and goodwill we received from around the world. It was a very emotional and thought provoking time.
Passing 103 Mile
With the wind and the fire constantly changing direction, a huge effort was made to save all structures and keep the fire from crossing to the east side of Highway 97.
The battle to save structures, 105 Mile
103 Mile, 105 Mile (where we live) and 108 Mile Ranch were all under threat. It was then I decided to evacuate a second time. When I discovered road blocks had been re-established to the south cutting me off from the Horn ranch and my possessions, I was forced to go North. I had no idea this time where I was headed.
Another ‘last’ image of our home