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Community dedicates relocated 2003 fire monuments at Fadear Park

On Aug. 11, residents of the North Thompson gathered on a lovely summer’s evening to remember the 2003 wildfires at the relocated monuments and beautifully constructed informational gazebo at Fadear Park in Barriere.
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On Aug. 11, residents of the North Thompson gathered on a lovely summer’s evening to remember the 2003 wildfires at the relocated monuments and beautifully constructed informational gazebo at Fadear Park in Barriere.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was organized in honour of the 20-year anniversary of the wildfires and to recognize the courage, resilience and strength shown by so many who fought the “dragon” during the devastating fires.

The Master of Ceremonies, Harley Wright, was introduced by District of Barriere CAO Bob Payette. Wright commended the bravery of the communities of McLure, Louis Creek and Barriere, as well as those who rushed to the area to assist in battling the many fierce fires that attacked nearby forests, homes, ranches and businesses during that unforgettable disaster.

“It was traumatizing and terrifying for a lot of people during the fires that rampaged through the area,” said Wright. “What I remember well was people working together in evacuating people and animals. So much cooperation among everyone involved. People opened up their homes, from Prince George to 100 Mile House, Clearwater, Kamloops, McLure. People opened their hearts and homes for people who were evacuated during the fires.

“The community was very strong in helping each other out, and in actual fact it formed a better community bond in the long run.”

Wright recalled how the military, various fire departments, and others rushed to the aid of those impacted by the destruction.

“People donated money from all over the world, and together with churches they combined resources to rebuild homes for those without insurance. We cannot forget those good people out there that came to help rebuild in making a better community for all.”

Wright then introduced guest speaker Jennifer Fraser, who was working as staging manager with the Ministry of Forests during the fires, and whose job it was to organize equipment during the event. Fraser grew up in the area, and now lives and works in Kamloops.

She reflected on how it felt that fateful day to approach the monster of a fire circling her hometown.

“I was driving home from Kamloops and could see the column of smoke in McLure. The feeling of chaos, trying to organize people and equipment. The chaos associated with being probably the first interface [fire] that we had really faced in B.C. We’ve seen so many of them since, but Barriere was the first town that literally had to be evacuated.

“Hearing the sound of the fire coming over the hill in Exlou and the darkness, wind, and heat. I can take myself right back there. It was so scary. But we were experiencing this together. We were so aligned with wanting to try to supress this fire and protect the town, people’s property, and the animals. The sense of community was so powerful.”

The next speaker invited to share a personal account was TNRD Area “O” Director Jill Hayward. Hayward and her husband Bob own a large cattle ranch in Louis Creek that was in the direct path of the fire, and lost their home.

“Everyone that has gone through something like this becomes defined as ‘before the fire or after the fire’,” she said. “For us it became ‘before the dragon and after the dragon’, when your whole life changes. During that evening when the fire took the run towards Barriere we evacuated 75 head of cattle, 16 horses, four dogs, my husband and myself.

“That was thanks to so many neighbours and friends who came to help. They came with trucks and trailers. We were stuffing animals into trailers. You are running on adrenaline. People came who we didn’t even know. Our ranch was literally burning as we loaded.”

Hayward explained that the Wildfire Dragon Monument was not built to remember the fire.

”It was built to remember how people stood in front of the ‘dragon’, and that started with the firemen and -women who stood in front of the fire. They were fighting to save people’s homes. I can’t say enough for the guts and courage of the first responders. It’s also a symbol that shows how people can overcome great difficulties together.”

The Wildfire Dragon Monument was built with a $40,000 donation from a Chinese benevolent society called “Success” out of Vancouver. After touring the aftermath of the fire they wanted to leave something to commemorate the courage and resilience of the community.

Hayward read from an article she wrote as editor of the Barriere Star Journal five years after the fires.

“Time moves on,” she wrote. “The land heals and so do the people who reside here. It’s been a tough road for many, some still find it hard. But for the most part, our valley and the people who call it home have proven stronger than some may have thought. We are still here and will be for hundreds of years to come.”

Hayward recognized the many who rallied round the community in support from all over Canada, the U.S, and elsewhere, but especially honoured local residents, who were so determined to remain and restore what was lost.

Just before cutting the ribbon to dedicate the informational gazebo and adjacent monuments, Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer said “I can’t say enough about all of the people around the world and those that stuck around that helped us to rebuild. I’m incredibly proud of our community and so grateful to everyone who supported us from near and far.”

The speeches were accompanied by an evening of food, memories and music in the park in a lighthearted community gathering which ended the dedication ceremony.

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About the Author: Hettie Buck

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