Tim John, a band councillor with Ehattesaht First Nation, says that locals are shocked by the extent of wildfires in the area, as firefighters continue to battle several blazes around Zeballos and across the North Island.
Wildfires aren’t completely without precedent in the remote coastal outpost of Zeballos, but members of the community aren’t used to fires so close to home, said John.
“Our members are kind of in awe, because we’ve never seen it this close to us,” he said.
He pointed to the sound of trees crashing down the slopes, and the way the flames flare up during the night above Zeballos, the village adjacent to the Ehattesaht reserve.
Years ago, there was at least one major wildfire in the Esperanza Inlet area, he said.
But the experience of wildfires is unsettling. It’s especially strange for children, he said.
“Growing up around here, all the kids knowing the safety of the place, and then seeing all of the panic… they’re in awe,” he said.
Two wildfires are burning about 10-15 km southwest of Zeballos, across the Espinosa Inlet. One of them, at Queens Cove, is near an abandoned summer village belonging to Ehattesaht First Nation.
It was one of the First Nation’s primary villages before members of the band moved to the Ehattesaht reserve beside Zeballos, said John. The band hopes firefighters will save the buildings, he said.
“There’s structures there that might be usable again,” John said. “We don’t want them burned to the ground.”
He added that the destruction of forests around the summer village would be a blow to elders in the community.
“It would be devastating to a lot of our older members to see that happen,” he said.
On Thursday morning, 27 firefighters were slated to work on that blaze, which was estimated at 195 hectares, according to Shayne McCool of the BC Wildfire Service.
Another nearby fire, at Espinosa Tower, stood at 800 hectares. No firefighters were working on that blaze on Thursday, but McCool said it was being monitored.
Another fire, this one near the Nuchatlaht First Nation’s Oclucje Reserve, stood at 89 hectares on Thursday, down from 123 on Tuesday.
That blaze, which prompted the closure of the band office due to health concerns caused by smoke, had no firefighting resources assigned on Thursday, but it was being monitored, McCool said.
At Pinder Creek, a fire near the access road for Zeballos remained at 260 hectares on Thursday, with 29 firefighters, three pieces of heavy equipment and three choppers assigned to the scene.
The fire directly outside of Zeballos remained at 168 hectares and was out of control on Thursday morning, and 13 firefighters were on the scene, including five working on structural protection.
McCool said that an estimated 57 wildfires were burning on the North Island on Thursday. The BC Wildfire Service was working on 13 of those directly, and resources were being assigned to others as needed, he said.
He added that 18 wildfires have been extinguished since lightning storms caused flare-ups across the North Island on August 11.
In Zeballos, the priorities were to protect homes and infrastructure on the fire’s north end, and power lines on the south end, according to a Facebook post by the Zeballos Emergency Program on Wednesday.
In recent days, a crew of firefighters rappelled into the forest near the fire’s south flank to build a helipad, allowing ground crews to set up a wet line, the post said.
Firefighters also expanded their wet line on the north flank of the fire, where six homes are currently under an evacuation order. They also set up a water bladder with a pump on a hillside.
The Zeballos Emergency Program urged members of the public to take care of their mental health during wildfires.
Tips included getting lots of sleep, being kind to yourself and others, and limiting exposure to media coverage that contains traumatic images.
The post also noted that mental health support is available through the BC Crisis Centre at 310-6789 (no area code required).