I heard the sirens before I saw the smoke. In fact, I didn’t notice it at all until Brittany, my wife, started yelling at me.
“Cory! Where are you?!”
“I’m in the shed!” I called back, puzzled by the unusual degree of urgency in her voice. I stepped outside and paused when I saw her standing at our back door with tear tinged panic in her eyes. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Did you hear the sirens?”
“Sure.” I was not phased. With high temperatures hovering near 40 degrees Celsius, having scarcely rained in weeks, a wildfire this time of year would be no surprise in the dry hills of overgrown grass and sagebrush surrounding Kamloops. In such conditions all it takes is a single lightning strike or carelessly discarded cigarette butt to ignite an uncontrollable inferno. Anything might be burning.
“Did you see that?” Brittany asked, gesturing over my shoulder.
I followed the direction of her pointed finger, turning around to see a plume of smoke billowing from just behind the hill directly overlooking our backyard. A few scattered ashes soon began to drift down upon our lawn.
Now I understood the expression on her face. She knew firsthand the kind of devastation an uncontained blaze can cause, having been part of a full-scale evacuation in the summer of 2003 when fire swept through the interior of British Columbia, destroying homes and businesses and permanently crippling her hometown of Barriere.
With the memory of that August of eleven years ago in mind, we quickly amassed a collection of things to salvage should the flames make the short leap onto our land: pets, instruments, documents, a handful of notebooks with years’ worth of scribblings, and anything else important and irreplaceable we could fathom on such short notice. We were ready to abandon our home if absolutely necessary.
Thankfully, the threat to our property was swiftly neutralized. Fire crews were on top of it in minutes, with three air tankers swooping in to take turns dumping loads of fire retardant on the blaze. It was over barely more than an hour after it had begun. Our home was safe.
Even so, the brief sense of danger had forced us to consider which of our possessions are most worth rescuing. Much of what I had chosen to spare I would do so again were I ever forced to flee. Conversely, there were also several useless trinkets I could have conserved effort by abandoning, and other items I had forgotten altogether that would have anguished me to be without.
In the face of potential rapid destruction, a house filled with memories becomes a snap decision between a select few salvaged belongings and a majority of things to choose to lose forever. I was fortunate in this situation, thanks to a swift emergency response, but I can already imagine what I might decide to gather next time. With luck there will not be a next time, and I hope that I will never have to make that choice.
What would you save?
– Cory Magnus Stumpf