The roar of 100 jets, red hot embers, black acrid smoke and a giant fireball!
These are the things that flood into Jeanene Pierce’s mind when the sun shines and temperatures soar.
The huge fireball that roared down the Fly Hills and up Mt. Ida on Aug. 5 in the 1998 firestorm did so above her and husband Norman’s Johnson Road home.
A lightning strike at about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 29 sparked the Silvercreek wildfire that devoured 6,000 hectares of land, caused the evacuation of some 7,000 Salmon Arm and Silvercreek residents, destroyed 40 buildings and cost $10 million to extinguish.
Residents of Silvercreek since 1974, the Pierces thought the wind would blow the fire north along the valley towards Salmon Arm, never dreaming it would move across their property.
Jeanene explains that after 44 years of living on their property, the couple has witnessed the resulting turbulence when the wind coming down from the Fly Hills collides at the bridge at Johnson Road with wind from the south. They think that’s why the ball of fire crossed their land.
“As each day passed by, it was just horrendous,” says Jeanene, noting the couple had transported their two horses to Agar Road on July 31.
However, after a communications person told residents in a packed Silver Creek community hall not to worry because the fire would not come down the hill, they moved the horses back home.
While watching the fire progress during the August long weekend, the couple decided to put sprinklers on their roof, something they accomplished three days before the fire exploded down towards their property.
“On the afternoon of Aug. 5, it turned all black and we knew something was going to happen,” Jeanene says, noting that amid the sparks and smoke, the RCMP arrived to tell them to evacuate. “I was panicking so much and my husband said go out and take pictures, and so I was standing out behind the house and looking up when I saw a ball of fire.”
In the middle of the maelstrom, Norman was trying to catch the petrified horses. Once he did, they took them to a friend’s home in Armstrong, returning to Salmon Arm to stay with their son.
But not before a frightening trip out of the fire zone.
As he climbed into the truck, Norm did not tell his wife that their barn was already on fire or that he fully expected the house to be devoured as well, even though a neighbour had cut a swath around the house, and their son and structural firefighters were wetting the cedar shake roof and siding.
“The roar, the noise, was unbelievable; it was frightening,” says Jeanene. “We started to go down the road towards Vernon and looked behind but the kids were not visible.”
There had been no way for her son to tell her he had stopped to help a woman who was trying to get her horses out so Jeanene feared he’d been caught in the fire.
The day after the fireball, the couple pursuaded authorities to give them permission to return to their home to care for other animals.
“When we went past Blanchflower the day after the ball of fire, flames were coming out of windows in a house,” says Norman. “Our corral kept catching fire and we were going out every night to put the fires out.”
Jeanene captured amazing images of the awful beauty of the firestorm and the ravages it wrought in a book originally titled A World Epic: God of Fire Reavealed in the Shuswap Through Photos. She changed the title following criticism about her use of the word God. Because some of the clouds seemed to reveal faces, Jeanene changed the name of the book to Energy Based Beings. It is available online at www.blurb.ca. Enter the title in the search tab.
With frightening memories haunting her, Jeanene implores smokers to refrain from flicking their cigarette butts onto the ground.
“I get upset just thinking of it,” she says. “I’m scared to come into town because you never know when it’s going to come again.”