Homeless in Vancouver: The smoke of distant fires blankets our town

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      Yesterday morning, all was peace and quite and warm zephyr winds, with occasional cool breezes—in my parkade at least.

      It was about 2 p.m. before the irritating tang of something burning intruded on my pleasant Sunday afternoon. I was still puttering away, some three hours after I had woken up; alternately reading, listening to music, and tinkering with my always-in-need-of-repair bicycle trailer.

      If I had realized how much more comfortable my parkade was compared the the rest of outdoor Vancouver, I might have stayed there, at least until the worst had blown over and by that I mean the worst of the forest fire smoke.

      But I hadn’t been online since Friday and I was oblivious to the state of the outside world.

      All I knew was that I needed coffee and something to eat almost as much as my camera and laptop needed electricity. So, after I tightened one last hose clamp on the underside of the bike trailer, I packed up the little traveling circus that is my life of homelessness and I made my way out of the coolness of the parkade and into the heat of the day.

      And it was the stiffling heat that bore down on me first, followed by an awareness of the thick smoke blanketing everything. Out in the open streets, where the smell was stronger, I recognized it as the cloying stink of distant forest fires.

      The northward view of the downtown skyline, when it really presented itself at the intersection of West Broadway Avenue and Alder Street, was all but identical to the views we get during heavy spring and autumn fogs.

      The towers appeared insubstantial—stripped of highlights and shadows by atmospheric haze—and rooted in and backed by nothing but featureless grey murk. The distant North Shore mountains were nowhere to be seen, completely hidden by veils of smoke.

      It’s times like this when I think what a good idea it would be to have one of those filter masks that some bicycle couriers use, not to mention a reserve charged battery for the camera, just like I have for the laptop.

      Here there’s smoke, everywhere else is fire

      Where there’s smoke there’s fire and there seems to be fire everywhere in B.C.
      B.C. Wildfire Service/Google Earth

      According to the CBC, over 50 new wildfires flared across British Columbia over the weekend, thanks to the persistent hot and dry conditions across the province.

      If you have Google Earth installed on your computer, you can download and view a KMZ file of Current Fire Locations, courtesy of the B.C. Wildfire Service website.

      According to that data, as of about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, two of the closest and most active fires to the east of Vancouver were a 0.2-hectare fire burning some 23 kilometres away at nearby Mount Burnaby and another, much smaller fire, 79 kilometres away, at Norrish Creek, between Mission and Chilliwack.

      Just 57 kilometres to the southwest was a large 18-hectare fire burning just east of the Nanaimo Airport on Vancouver Island. And 462 kilometres m to the northwest, there was a 17-hectare fire burning in Port Hardy.

      But by far, the biggest and closest fire to Vancouver was burning 56 kilometres to the northwest: a massive 65-hectare fire at the Old Sechelt Mine.

      And there are many larger fires in more distant parts of British Columbia.

      Good luck to all the communities and crews battling the wild fires across the province and good luck to all the elderly women and men who will be having a bit harder time breathing all the smoky air. 

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.