Former evacuees from Barriere welcoming those displaced by wildfires

By Jill Sperling
July 14, 2017 - 6:00pm

BARRIERE, B.C. — 14 years ago another B.C. community was threatened by fire. 

In 2003, a wildfire ripped through the Barriere area, destroying homes and businesses in its path. 

Now, Barriere residents affected by that wildfire are volunteering to help others going through a similar situation. 

Minutes after arriving at the North Thompson Fall Fairground in Barriere, Stewart Atkinson was overcome with emotion. 

"It's all up in the air," he said through tears. "Hopefully everything is going to be ok."

The 108 Mile resident's journey to this point has not been an easy one. 

"We left 108 Mile, and we were evacuated to 100 Mile, there was an (evacuation) centre there, and it was promptly closed down and moved to Prince George," Atkinson said. "We had gone up to hopefully stay at my mom's at Cache Creek, but she had been evacuated as well, so we'd had to turn around and ended up back in 100 Mile."

Now, Atkinson finds himself in Barriere, surrounded by people who understand what he's going through. 

TNRD Area 'O' Director Bill Kershaw remembers the day Barriere residents were forced to flee at a moment's notice.

"We know what they go through when all of a sudden someone comes to your door, knocks on your door and says that you've got to leave, and you've got an hour to do it," Kershaw said.  "You don't know, 'where should I go? Where am I going? What am I going to do?' And these people are in the same boat."

The memories of the 2003 fire are etched in the minds of the people forced to flee, and burned into the hillside surrounding the district. 

"The fire was coming from the Fishtrap direction," recalled Cherie Jardin, "and it was coming quite quickly, and we didn't really have a lot of notice. I was working for Interior Health at the time as a home support supervisor, and we were concerned as a team to get people out of town."

Jardin was instrumental in getting people out of the fire threatened community, and just weeks ago she was recognized for her actions.

"I was just awarded the Health Employers Association BC Award for Health Care Hero for the work that I did in the fires of 2003."

Jardin is helping out once again, volunteering to assist people with the care of their animals. 

Neil Driediger, a miniature poodle breeder and self-evacuee from Lone Butte, brought with him 11 dogs, three cats, two African grey parrots, and two horses.

"People here they brought food, water, food for our animals," Driediger said. "Everything's donated, the hay for the horses. People are great."

Having lived through disaster themselves, Barriere resident are filled with compassion, and can offer a little advice. 

"Talk on the positives, and stay to the positive side, because it overrides the rest of it," Kershaw said. "The rest of it's just something to talk about that you can't change. And that's what I would say to all these people that are here. When they go home, dwell on the positives, and there's a lot of them."

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