[Andre Forget, Anglican Journal] As wildfires rage across British Columbia’s Central Interior, Anglican leaders in the region are doing what they can to support their communities, says Bishop Barbara Andrews of the Central Interior-based Territory of the People.
After weeks of hot, dry weather, a lightning storm sparked fires that have spread across the Central Interior, forcing thousands to leave their homes and causing the province to declare a state of emergency. Of the 14,000 people who have been evacuated so far, Bishop Barbara estimates roughly 1,000 are Anglicans.
All 2,000 residents of 100 Mile House have been evacuated, including the Revd Keith Dobyns, the Revd Kristen Dobyns and Canon Thelma Sharkey, deacon of St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, as have the residents of Cache Creek. The 10,000 citizens of Williams Lake are currently on evacuation alert, and the fire has already destroyed houses on the reserve of the Ashcroft Indian Band, according to media reports.
But Bishop Barbara said the roughly 220 active fires are having an impact on every single member of every congregation in her territory, regardless of whether they have been evacuated or not. “Every community within the Central Interior…has a fire near the community,” she said. “As far as we know, we’ve had no loss of property, and no loss of life, but it is affecting every Anglican in the Central Interior of British Columbia right now.”
Bishop Barbara noted that even those who have not had to flee their homes are dealing with heavy smoke, the threat of evacuation and, in some cases, loss of livelihood. Cattle ranching is a major industry in that part of B.C., and while efforts are being made to move livestock to safety, the sheer number of animals in the region means some must be left behind.
“People are anxious, stressed out. In many of our communities, there is no gas (petrol) left, so even when they are able to evacuate, there is trouble finding enough gas to get anywhere,” Bishop Barbara added.
So far, there is no end in sight. There is no rain in the forecast, and the vast forests of the Central Interior have been turned to kindling by a long heat wave. “We’re in it for the long haul here,” said Bishop Barbara, noting that the Territory of the People has responded by registering its buildings with emergency services as overflow, should the number of evacuees increase. She has also assured the parishes in the territory that their bills will be paid and payroll will be maintained.
“We may need to ask for help from the larger church if this goes on too long, but at this point, we are just saying to the churches, ‘We will take care of what we need to take care of for you, and sort it out at the end of the day,’ ” she said.
Bishop Barbara said her own headquarters, St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Kamloops, will be one of the first places the province turns to in housing evacuees because it is equipped with a large kitchen and mattresses that are used during the out-of-the-cold programme in winter. St. Paul’s is also providing spiritual support to those affected by the fires.
Bishop Barbara asked Anglicans across the country for prayers, keeping in mind the people of the Central Interior, their leaders, the firefighters who have been battling the conflagrations around the clock, and the evacuees. “I think anyone that is living in emergency shelters is living under extreme stress and uncertainty, and needs our prayers,” she said. “Pray for rain.”