He says it’s not at all what he planned to do with his summer, not by a long shot. But, looking back, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
That’s how Bryan Reid Sr., owner of Pioneer Log Homes of BC and star of the HGTV show Timber Kings, reflects back on the summer of 2017, where he spent his time camping out on his property while the impending danger of wildfire surrounded him.
More than 12,000 people were forced from their homes in the evacuation order that was issued for the City of Williams Lake and surrounding areas on July 15th.
But what about the ones that stayed behind?
In northern B.C., there are many loggers, miners, forestry workers, farmers, and cowboys who call the great outdoors home, and they weren’t about to let a wildfire take away their livelihoods.
“They are used to the outdoors, they’re used to dealing with problems themselves,” said Reid. “I would say they’re kind of like survivors.”
Reid says that it was during the first five hours of the fire that one of his three building sites was completely engulfed in flames, taking with it four one-of-a-kind homes that were either near completion or ready to be shipped.
“It was a monster at that time,” Reid says, describing the fire.
After that, Reid spent the next few days sleeping in his truck at one of his two sites that were left, just south of Williams Lake.
He slept at the site, ate at the site, and lived at the site while protecting it, waking up every few hours in the dead of the night to make sure the property was safe.
Reid describes going to late night safety meetings with the 150 Mile House Fire Department, picking up supplies like hoses and sprinklers, and watering down their 20-acre site.
“We are in the wood business,” he says. “We build log homes, so there's plenty of wood around. If one of our sites were to catch fire, it would probably spread to residences and structures in the immediate area.”
“Anytime you can stop a fire, anytime you can be proactive instead of reactive, you’re going to be much better off,” he adds.
The Timber Kings star also contributed to the fight by purchasing some much-needed tools for the 150 Mile House Fire Department.
After consulting the Fire Chief, Reid bought some fire trucks from the Abbotsford Fire Department for the volunteer firefighters so they could protect the community.
There were times when the 150 Mile House Fire Department had to extinguish flames as close as 30 metres away from Reid's property. If they hadn’t been there, the flames likely would have taken over the site in a matter of minutes.
“I don’t know about the word stressful, but there was always an immediate danger,” says Reid. “An ember or a spark going unnoticed, and not being able to control the outcome.”
After three or four days, he made a more permanent move to the site, making his motor-home his home base.
They had to protect their assets and help out in any way that they could, Reid said. They had the resources and the equipment, not to mention the skills it took to help battle the fires.
“The only common goal was to protect people’s assets and try and protect their property,” says Reid.
Reid says that of all the people who were evacuated, he estimates that about 5% stayed behind and were an integral part of the operation that took place.
It was the ones who stayed behind who filled up vehicles with gas and firetrucks with diesel, drove equipment, and kept stores open for supplies.
Without them, the whole thing would have imploded.
“The whole thing really showed what a great community this is, and what a great province we live in.”
Reid said that during his time in the middle of B.C.’s worst fire season, he witnessed the selfless work of the firefighters and first responders there.
Each Fire Department went home with a carving from Pioneer Log Homes to remember their time there. Additionally, Pioneer Log Homes donated log slabs for a display that the first responders signed and cut off their patches to attach in order to mark the historical summer.
“They did the impossible,” he said. “The same guys who were working, like me, thirty hours straight to try and save something that wasn’t even theirs.”
“The human scale of this whole event wasn’t just centered at Williams Lake. It was the eye of the storm, but it was all over the province.”
He says Wiliams Lake is doing well and settling right back in after being up-rooted by the fires. "Williams Lake is still here," he says.
“The whole infrastructure is still here...highways sawmills, ranches...We didn't roll up the shades, and turn out the lights, and move out.”
“It was probably one of the worst summers of my life, and at the same time I think it was one of the best summers,” Reid concludes. “People really pulled together.”