The Tremont Creek wildfire near Walhachin as seen from McAbee on July 17, 2021. (Photo credit: Gary Winslow)

The Editor’s Desk: The summer that wasn’t

We all hoped to be aboard the Freedom Express this summer, but that train barely left the station

I know the calendar still says it’s August, but I can’t help feeling that Mother Nature, after a beast of a summer, has said “That’s it, we’re heading into September already.” There was a goodly amount of snow on top of Cornwall Mountain on Sunday, Aug. 22: not just a sprinkling of powder, but a substantial-looking dump of the white stuff. For two days the weather was damp and drizzly, and even when the sun is out it is undercut by a thin thread of chill that’s more akin to mid-September than the dog days of August.

Bears — which don’t usually start their “fatten up for winter” regime of raiding urban fruit trees until kids are back at school — are already out and about, doubtless driven in part by lack of food in burnt-out areas where they would normally be foraging for food. I heard a flock of Canada geese overhead this morning, and the leaves on the birch tree in our backyard — a reliable gauge of the time of year for a quarter-century — are showing signs of starting to turn.

Normally I would mourn this rushed end to summer, but I suspect I’m not alone in welcoming it this year. What makes it even sadder is the fact that summer 2021 started out so promisingly, if you set aside the monster heat dome that settled over the province in late June. It wasn’t going to last forever, after all, and COVID-19 regulations were set to loosen on July 1, a tantalizing promise of things that had been denied us for more than a year. We’d have concerts again! We could go to to movies and sports events! Weddings would be going ahead! All aboard the Freedom Express: next stop, a near-normal summer of fun!

Well, that train ground to a halt on the late afternoon of June 30, when news began filtering out that something terrible was happening in Lytton, and never regained steam, as a litany of names of previously obscure geographic features — Lytton Creek, Sparks Lake, Flat Lake, Tremont Creek, McKay Creek, White Rock Lake, July Mountain, Mowhokam Creek — became all-too-familiar. A literal ring of fire had descended on the Southern and Central Interior.

The worst day — after June 30 — was Sunday, Aug. 15. That morning I saw a tweet from Kevin Skrepnek, formerly of the BC Wildfire Service, and a man who knows a thing or two about fires. Late in the evening of Aug. 14 he had written “In my career, I have never been more concerned than I am for what this province will face in the next ~36 hours.”

All I can say is that the next time I see Kevin, I’m asking him for some lottery numbers, because he was bang-on. “Firemageddon” is what I’ve dubbed Aug. 15, where it seemed that Every. Damn. Fire. decided to show us what it could really do, given the perfect storm of high temperatures, drought, and strong winds.

Then, having proved once and for all who’s in charge here, everything went — if not all quiet on the fire front, then a lot more quiet than it had been. Slowly, cautiously, small gains were announced. Fires might not be contained, but they weren’t growing. Evacuation orders and alerts — some in place since early July — began to be rescinded. To quote Nanki-Poo in The Mikado, modified rapture! We might just get a bit of summer after all.

Then, of course, came the news that due to an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the region, new restrictions were going into place in Interior Health, and would be in effect until at least the end of September. It was official: the Freedom Express was cancelled, and would be returning to the station immediately. Sorry, tickets for summer 2021 are non-refundable.

So bring on autumn, I say; the sooner we can put this summer in the rear-view mirror, the better. Let’s all try again next year, and hope that the Freedom Express doesn’t get derailed again.

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