By Marvin Louie
Normally the caption “Smoke Signals” has a much happier meaning with regard to its intended projection. But when the first “smoke signals” started being noticed around Eagle Bluff the beginning of August, there was definitely no overjoyous feeling of glee. At first, when the fire begins, you normally don’t think too much about it; especially when it’s far away from your own property. But then as days go by and more and more smoke appears and additional helicopters are flying in the air you realize just how dangerous this fire can actually be. Then when you start hearing around the community (the OIB community in this instance) that people’s homes are in danger and that they actually need to be evacuated, a whole different mindset and feeling in your body begins to take over. Although your house (and property) is not a physical entity (like your body), it is of a major importance to you and if it has to be replaced (physically) due to the actions by the fire, its emotional presence may never be the same.
So as the fire began to spread through the fields and forests, getting closer to the town of Oliver and to many houses on the OIB reserve, more evacuation notices were handed out including ones on Nk’Mip Road where I live. I got a hard bang on my door around midnight on Thursday, Aug. 8 and it startled the heck out of me and my canine companion, Sydney Starr (No, she doesn’t pay rent). I went outside and looked around and didn’t see anyone but then as I turned to walk back inside I saw the “precautionary evacuation notice” on my door. I had never gotten a notice like this before so I wasn’t sure what it exactly meant. I called one of our OIB contacts (regarding fire updates) and she informed me that the fire is not ‘close’ to your home yet, but with the weather forecast of upcoming rain this coming weekend anything could happen, so it’s best to be prepared. That triggered me to remembering one of my favourite movies, “Only the Brave” in which towards the end the wind changed directions so fast (as fast as Bo Jackson running the 100 metres in his prime; if you don’t know who Bo Jackson is check him out on YouTube; the second greatest athlete of all time; the first of course being Jim Thorpe) that it engulfs another section of terrain and creates total chaos. Even though I was ‘only’ on precautionary notice it definitely made me think of just how quickly circumstances change your outlook on life; a real eye opener, and that we should be blessed with every day we have on this Earth and cherish our friends and family to the fullest.
Once the ‘evacuation notices’ were lifted the OIB Chief and Council decided to have an “appreciation luncheon” on Friday, Aug. 16 at the OIB Community Hall for all the firefighters who so courageously battled the fires the past couple of weeks. It was a great turnout as around 50 firefighters and crew entered the hall and sat down to have lunch and stories with OIB community members. Chief Clarence Louie stated, “It’s a great honour and appreciation to have the firefighters here today, they have done so much for our community and we thank them wholeheartedly.” Another OIB member, Morning Dove Hall, who came close to losing her house in the fire, stated how much she was thankful for the firefighters and sang them a “traditional Okanagan song” for their perseverance.
(Marvin Louie is a youth program coordinator with the Osoyoos Indian Band.)