A First Nation in B.C.’s North Shuswap region is dealing with catastrophic damage in the aftermath of the Bush Creek East wildfire’s devastating run through the area.
One-third of all the structures in Skwlax te Secwepemculecw, located on Little Shuswap Lake, were destroyed by the blaze, according to an updated damage assessment from Canada Task Force 1.
In total, 85 structures in the First Nation were lost and 13 were partially damaged, communications co-ordinator Larry Read said in a Columbia-Shuswap Regional District information briefing Saturday.
A remaining 139 structures were unscathed.
“It’s been a very traumatic week for the band,” Read said. “We had a special band meeting on Wednesday where band members found out for themselves whose homes were spared and who had lost their homes. Very emotional time.”
A building that contained a gas station, band offices and four rental units burned down, but the Quaaout Lodge and Talking Rock Golf Course are intact, he added.
Most importantly, every band member is safe and accounted for.
Read said a committee is currently being formed to create a plan to rebuild the lost homes.
The band’s approximately 350 members are now scattered around the region, some in Salmon Arm and some in Kamloops. It’s still unknown when they’ll be able to return.
“Yeah, we lost houses. But the important thing, that house doesn’t become a home unless family is in there, and everybody from the community got out safely,” said Skwlax te Secwepemculecw Kukpi7, or Chief, James Tomma on Friday.
He was among the band members who lost their homes.
He became trapped under a bridge with his two brothers when the fire reached the First Nation.
“Sounded just like a war zone, looked like a war zone. It wasn’t a couple of embers, it was a shower. It was a shower of embers and we can hear the community explode,” Tomma said.
The group ran to the river, where they were rescued by boat by two “very brave boys” from the Adams Lake band.
Tomma vowed that the community will rebuild.
“The task set out before us is daunting, but it also shows the community spirit,” he said.
“My band – they’re resilient,” he continued. “We know that my people have gone through a lot and are still here and we’ll be still here.”
“Kukpi7 says he really thanks you for your support and your offer of support. And we will take the public’s offer up when we realize and figure out exactly what we need,” Read said.
On Friday, officials with the CSRD confirmed at least 168 structures were destroyed or damaged by the fire, but said the survey is still incomplete.