The initial lightning strike that was the birth of the Silver Creek Fire occurred on the evening of July 29th in 1998. The fire department was made aware of the strike and the resulting small fire but it was on the mountain high above the Silver Creek community. The location of the fire made it very difficult for the forestry crews to access.
The Silver Creek Volunteer Fire Department was put on standby, which soon became a twenty-four hour watch on Branchflower Road. The fire had taken a number of runs along the mountain face for close to a week.
On Wednesday August 5 the fire made its big move, making its way down the mountain face (fire is not supposed to burn down hill). An all-out alarm was sounded.
When I arrived at the end of Branchflower Road our crews were soaking down a number of homes as well as extinguishing small spot fires. It was a very hectic scene. The noise of the trucks, people, and the overpowering sounds of the fire itself made shouting the only way to be heard.
A structure fire crew is not equipped to deal with a moving fire, but we had set up to try to save the buildings in the path of the fire. Busy doing what we could, we were not really focusing on the fire itself.
I remember very well seeing a crew of forestry firefighters come stumbling out of the woods. They were dirty, ragged and exhausted but what really shocked me was the look of fear in the eyes. They were evacuating a fire that was out of control.
When I looked around I could see that there was no one around except our crew.
That’s when Len Sarrazin and I decided to give the order to drop everything and get back to the main road. We drove the two trucks out but left all the lines and a drop tank behind.
When we reached the Salmon River road we decided to head up the valley to deal with the fires that were springing up all through the valley. There was a solid stream of vehicles heading north. A full scale evacuation was underway.
Anything that would roll was moving down the road with household items and animals.
The dense smoke, the howling wind, and the surreal light from the obscured sun made for a scene more frightening than anything created by Hollywood.
Heading south on the engine, with Len Sarazzin and Doug Dressen on board we saw a large barn starting to burn. We pulled into the driveway, passed the barn to draft some water from the river and fight the barn fire. We were unable to get the necessary water. By the time we had turned the truck around and were heading back to the road the barn was fully engulfed in flame and the driveway was completely obscured by smoke and flame. Doug was driving, Len was riding shotgun and I was on the rear running board.
A split second decision was made to drive through or we would have been trapped. I poured a jug of water over my head and hung on for dear life. Doug put on the lights, siren, horn and drove right through the fire. We made it out to the road. We spent the next eight to ten hours driving around the valley knocking down fires wherever we could.
While all this had been going on the fire had jumped across the valley and was burning out of control toward Salmon Arm.
Silver Creek Volunteer Fire Department
Photo credit in order of appearance:
1. Linda Grant, c. 2016
2. & 3. James Murray, Salmon Arm Observer, 1998
4. Shopper’s Guide collection, 1998