I am in the center of it. No rain for months, record heat, fires burning all around, choking on smoke day and night, evacuation looming, power outages, and toxic drinking water - this is the precarious situation for me, my disabled wife, and our almost-2-year-old. What follows is an account of our personal experiences, including the circumstances which have led up to this perilous moment.
Before the fire...
The 3 of us have been living in a 24/7/365 construction zone since the pandemic began - February 2020. Pounding, beeping, vibrating, banging, detonations, yelling, and crashing.... at least 6 days a week. They have been installing a roundabout (circular intersection) and 5G towers in front of my place. "Progress", they say. The walls and foundation of our little house are cracked from all the vibrations and earthquakes the machines cause. Sometimes in the middle of the night.
For the first few days, and weeks, we comforted ourselves with "at least they're getting something done" and "this will be over soon and we'll have an upgraded neighborhood". That was overly optimistic. We soon noticed (and documented) that most of the "work" is repetitive and purposeless - they are just going through motions to look and sound busy. They spend half the day digging a pit, only to fill and pound it in for the second half of the day, and then do the exact same thing in the exact same spot the next day. Just a fake "essential" project, tormenting us day and night through the lockdowns here in our small rental house. It has been torture. I honestly believe you can't treat inmates on death row the way we've been treated. Complaints go unacknowledged, or snidely dismissed. The reality is, if you can't sue them to protect yourself, they trample all over you. Our public servants stopped serving us long ago.
It's hard to describe to you the anguish we were put through, not just a few times, but continuously, for months on end. At many points, I felt like I was going to lose it. A couple times, I did. After quite a few years of personal turmoil and health problems, what I really needed was some recovery time. I needed to heal, and remember who I am again, get my feet back under me. Instead, it has been an exceedingly brutal year and a half, with no relief in sight.
And right now, my situation has turned critical.
I've documented the lack of rain all year in my region. It has been bizarrely dry, like not a drop. Even when those two man-made freezing systems went through here on their way to generate national headlines in Texas, there was no precipitation. My yard is a tinder box (and now we're under a watering ban). I had to water back in March this year, something not done here typically until at least June. By this June, a "heat dome" (previously-unheard-of weather pattern) had centered itself over my region and scorched us with record heat. Canada's all-time high had been 45 Celsius for decades, but suddenly my entire area was that hot, and the nearby town of Lytton hit 50! About 1000 people in BC dropped dead from the heat alone. (That's half the number killed here by Covid in the past 2 years!)
The next day, the entire town of Lytton suddenly burst into flames and was wiped off the map. Residents have not been able/allowed to return. It's gone. We're still breathing in the smoke from that fire, lingering in the Okanagan valleys. The presumed cause of the fire? Sparks from the CN Rail train that went through town just before the fire started. My town is just down the line, and that exact train passes RIGHT past my house. It's so dry that any spark could turn this area into an inferno. (Yes, I live on the tracks, and a huge freight train goes through my yard a few times a day/night. But that's nothing compared to the nonstop construction vehicles!)
My personal situation is that I have chronic pain, a neuro-degenerative disorder like MS, fibromyalgia, PTSD, and other long-term health concerns. I can walk, but sometimes not very far. Some days are better than others, and I never know in advance. After four decades of great health, now I can't run, swim, fight, etc. Despite all the health upgrades I've made since getting sick, I still have fatigue, full body muscle twitching, insomnia, vision problems, and other neurological symptoms. My wife is crippled from the radiation and surgery she got to suppress her childhood spinal cancer. Her spine is fused to titanium rods, one of her arms is partly paralyzed, and so on. She could be in a wheelchair, but chooses to walk with a limp. We can't drive.
I'll spare you the details, but I got very sick at age 40 when my grandmother died in 2016. Until then, I had been taking care of Katie as we put her through college. I was our driver, our physical strength, and our endurance. But suddenly, I needed care, too. My family physically and emotionally distanced themselves from us, and we couldn't find a place to rent fast enough, so we ended up couch-surfing with fellow activists. We found a suite with some difficulty, and moved in, but that's when my illness really struck. Before I could get a diagnosis or treatment lined up, the landlords evicted us to "move in relatives from China" (but really, to rent to someone else for a higher price).
Again, we couldn't find anywhere in time - Vancouver is the hottest and tightest real estate market in the world - and failing to obtain support from family, we were forced to put our belongings in storage and live on the street. During that time we got taken advantage of by unscrupulous people, including the police. It was during that period that Katie's cancer and radiation damage flared up again, and I required addictive prescription pharmaceuticals to stabilize my health. Through hard work, smart decisions, and luck, we landed an apartment, and began to rebuild our physical, mental, and financial health. I managed to get off all prescribed pharmaceuticals, and avoid using the opiates doctors kept pushing, by using high doses of cannabis extracts. Pills saved my life, and then weed saved me from pills.
That's when Brett came along - after 10 years together without children! She wasn't supposed to be able to conceive, but something we did for our health must have been effective! Her specialists suggested we terminate, but we decided to go with our gut feeling. We left behind our lifestyle of cannabis activism, and our friends, and sacrificed our tiny savings to get out of Vancouver. We moved to 'paradise' - the Okanagan, a region of Southern British Columbia known for lakes and orchards. I have family in the area, and it's where I spent my high school years. "Are we crazy for having a baby with the world the way it is?" kept coming up, but we dedicated ourselves to making it work. The world is going to need more good people in the future, after all.
Because it's where the specialists are, Brett was born in Vancouver. But he was perfectly healthy, so we were sent back to our small Okanagan town to begin our new life. Two disabled parents, caring for each other, and now also caring for a baby. We had been through a lot together, and we were up for this latest challenge. In fact, we rose to it! We're damn fine parents despite everything that's happening in the world - and in our personal situation.
But that's when my family made it clear they were cutting ties with me, my wife, and our son. I had moved to this town because they're here, but suddenly found myself alienated. Christmas 2019 came, and my wife and I spent it trying to be hopeful about the coming year, and being happy we had our miracle baby. But I've had 40 years of close and loving family bonds, so losing that has been a major adjustment. And Brett will need socialization somehow. It was a cold winter, so when things started to thaw in February 2020, we looked forward to venturing out into the community with our son.
That's when the construction started
Even though they haven't really got anything done, they've been at it NONSTOP since that day. Almost no sidewalk access to/from our place, and zero road access. Taxis, food delivery, couriers, and emergency vehicles can't get to our house, and for several months, Canada Post wouldn't deliver mail here, saying it was too dangerous. Our internet, water, and electricity are turned off, sometimes all day, and sometimes without notice. And then of course there's the noise, which can even include explosions that lift the house off its foundation at 3am. When confronted, workers and their bosses claim "this is emergency work, so regular noise laws don't apply". Every aspect of this forsaken project is unpleasant, inconvenient, and detrimental to our physical and mental health. And we'll never use the intersection they're supposedly building!
Right through the whole pandemic, all the lockdowns, the masks, the isolation, the economic collapse, the suicides, they're out there making $25 an hour scratching their asses, spitting, using the Porta-Potties, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and driving their noisy machines around for no good reason. I'm about sick of it! My baby hasn't had a normal first two years, and that can't be undone! I haven't had a proper sleep in many months, my nerves are beyond frazzled, and my symptoms are in a constant state of flaring up. Stress REALLY doesn't help, and what's going on - both in the world, and in my personal situation - is about as stressful as anything I've ever been through. Which at this point is saying a lot. I feel really badly for my innocent and sweet wife, and son. They deserve better. I do what I can to shield them from the damage this is causing, but it's not sustainable.
The division between me and my parents/relatives was widened by the "pandemic". I've been right about it all along, predicting each and every development months before it happens, while they've been wrong about it all along, every prediction they make falling flat within weeks. I even warned them for many years that something like this was coming, and they either ignored me, or called me crazy, but here we are. Yet they go on believing they've got it figured out, and I was only right because of luck... over and over and over again. They tell themselves I'm crazy, because to accept any part of what I say would mean shattering their paradigm. They're not ready to have to accept that everything they know is wrong.
So the lockdowns gave my family another reason to shun me. After not seeing them for at least 2 years, my parents finally met their grandson on his first birthday! But he's never seen them since, and he doesn't remember them. They live 5 minutes from here. I'm reminded how my grandparents flew in to New Zealand from Canada when they got the telegram I'd been born. They were there for me through everything, for 40 years, never missing a birthday, milestone, holiday, etc. I guess that's part of why I didn't hesitate when Grama asked me to look after her in her final years. Family is loyal to each other, no matter what... or so I thought.
When Christmas (Brett's 2nd) was cancelled by government health officials, my parents still held a dinner and present exchange, with all the family invited - except the three of us. We spent the entire winter season completely alone in our little house, without even a phone call to make sure we hadn't frozen to death. And all through 2021, they have refused to speak to me. It makes no logical sense, but what can I do about it? I might as well have moved us to a random spot in the middle of nowhere. We have zero support here. I should have taken my chances with strangers and a fresh start.
Without any support, barely able to take care of each other and the baby, despite the nonstop construction, we did what it took to make it through the "pandemic". Stores reduced their hours and added restrictions, making it even harder for us to get groceries. A shortage of many foods and supplies has developed, and prices are surging upward, putting pressure on fixed income families like ours. I have documented my experiences and opinions through the whole thing, but censorship increasingly cut me off from mainstream platforms like YouTube, where I got my start 15 years ago, and have 9000 subscribers and 800+ videos. So my wife and I dedicated ourselves to local activism, showing up at anti-lockdown and pro-freedom rallies. Our time, energy, and resources are very limited, but we gladly put whatever we're able to into our cause. And what greater cause is there than freedom?
But right now, all that is on hold, as a massive wall of flames moves steadily toward my tinder-dry town. From locked down in our home, to potentially forced to evacuate our home, literally overnight.
Where that leaves us
Currently it is raining ash and embers from the sky, over every square inch of this town, and nearby land. The air is almost too hot to breathe, and full of smoke. My eyes burn when I go outside, and sometimes even inside. My throat hurts. My wife and toddler are unsettled.
The whole town is now under evacuation alert. That means waiting by the radio/TV and prepared to evacuate. Including all those who are here because they evacuated from other places, there are tens of thousands of people who will need to cram onto a few highways (most of which are closed due to fires). How is that going to work? Not that I have a vehicle, or anyone willing to help us, anyway. If the fire comes for us, we will either have to take our chances with the flames and smoke, or take our chances with a government evacuation effort. The city has reduced bus service to almost nothing, and completely suspended mail delivery.
The area under official evacuation order is growing quickly. The entire indigenous reservation/subdivision is now totally evacuated, and the outskirts of town just a couple miles from me are evacuating as well. Everywhere around me, people are loading RVs and campers, or big pickup trucks, with all their valuables, camping equipment, pets, etc. They're gassing up, and they're parking with the front aimed outward, for quick getaways. When the word is given, they're going to hit the road in a hurry. Where they'll go that isn't on fire, I don't know.
The fire itself, now considered the worst in Canada, covers an area many times larger than the town I'm in. Be ready for further heat waves, warns the media. Air quality has hit a dangerous and record-low level, they say. Check on and help out your elderly relatives, and those with young children, we're reminded. Photos of burned out Lytton are put up along with the headline "Who Will Be Next?", warning that other BC towns will soon be scorched off the Earth. My vegetable garden, which I was growing to help counteract our rising food bills, is turning yellow thanks to the smoke blocking sunlight. It's dry, hot, dark, and toxic. "Is this the new normal?" asks the media pretentiously.
On top of that, my own symptoms are acting up, perhaps due to the stress and lack of sleep. My vision is dim, blurry, and doubled... meaning a lot of the time I'm half blind. Unless this has ever happened to you, you don't know how scary (and problematic) it is. It's like when you have something in your eye and can't see, so you do whatever it takes to get your eye cleaned up and working properly again. But whatever I do, my clear vision can't be restored. And it's steadily getting worse. I don't know why, and for the time being have no way of finding out. All I know is I'm losing my sight, and it is making life even harder than it already was. Then there are all my other symptoms, the nerve pain, and the brutal insomnia. Then there's the nonstop construction right outside, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.
As the fire bears down on my house, the sky dims, ash falling like black snow, and then the power goes out. A city-wide blackout, caused by the fire. No internet, no information, no communication.
But somehow, it's even worse: The tapwater isn't working properly, and is undrinkable. For days we called (and emailed) the city, but they denied responsibility, even though the water problems started at the exact time they were working on the plumbing lines for our block. Our tapwater smells like glue, or solvents, or something nasty. Completely undrinkable, and probably not even suitable for brushing teeth or cooking.
I feel like I'm living through a nightmare. No drinking water, power going out, isolated, with dangerous conditions outside. Along with the physical and mental anguish I'm in, I have found myself asking: Is this Hell?
The above was written as it happened over the past few days. Yesterday, I took an eerie walk to the shops in town. It felt like half the town had disappeared, and the other half was anxiously watching and waiting for news. We've gone from a long and damaging lockdown right into another emergency situation and threat. People are burned out, no pun intended. I know I'm not the only one who is hurting through this. It has been terrible for us all.
On the way home with some supplies to add to the pantry, there was a sudden and unexpected deluge. The first rainfall in weeks, and one of only a few this entire year! It began without warning, massive warm droplets showering down, instantly soaking the bone-dry ground... and me! But I didn't care. It felt so good, water finally falling from the sky, knowing the nearby fire was being tamed. People came out of their houses, and some even literally danced in the street. The energy was intense! What a release! A river of rainwater, blackened with ash, flowed on both sides of the streets. I've never seen anything like it. I wish I had a photo to show you, but my camera would have been drenched along with me, so I'm glad it wasn't with me.
It rained (less dramatically) on and off for a few hours, and the fire crews report good progress at fighting the blaze. It's far from under control, but it's not spreading anywhere near as rapidly, or acting as aggressively. The weather is forecast to return to hot and dry as the week progresses, so we're not out of the woods (no pun intended again) yet.
I also made some positive moves for my family
Thanks to some cash generated by selling some of my collectible cards recently, I was able to buy a couple major upgrades for our little house! After researching what I felt was the best in my price range, I managed to solve our drinking water problem AND deal with a lot of the smoke!
Mission: Agua-Possible - Canadian edition!
Remember when I sunk about $10,000 USD into buying a water pump for a thirsty Venezuelan family? If not, a summary can be found here. Due to the long-term collapse of the STEEM currency, it took a year and a half, and at least 20 times more money than anticipated, but we finally got clean running water for Edgar and his farm.
I knew there would never be any effort like that for me, but luckily, I was able to turn my card collection into the equipment I needed to generate suitable water for my family! It arrived - despite mail delivery suspension - just as were about to run out of emergency bottled water.
Now as long as I have a source of electricity, I have the cleanest possible drinking water available - distilled. It's condensed steam, nothing more and nothing less. Now, whatever's in the water supply here isn't ending up in my glass. The water it generates is deliciously pure.
I was also able to afford a really good air filter. This one is powerful enough to cover most of our little house, and has a true Hepa filter, which means it removes everything from the air except the air itself. Dust, smoke, pollen, dander, fur, hair, mites, volatile compounds, odors, etc. It's a health AND comfort upgrade.
The smoke which manages to get inside is now dealt with by this filter. We still get the odd whiff when things are thick outside, but it's MUCH better than it was. We're very happy with this thing, and thankful we had the funds to afford it on our fixed budget.
(Thanks for reading. I hope it didn't come across as whining, although if I claimed I didn't do a bit of venting via writing this post, that would be dishonest! I appreciate you listening. As you now know, I don't really have a lot of ears ready to hear me at the moment.)
My situation is still precarious here. My health continues to slide, construction goes on nonstop around our small house, my wife's long-term health issues aren't going away, we're only getting more and more divided from our families, and the fire may still devour this town.
But I've got drinking water (as long as the power stays on), I've got a way to combat the smoke, and the fire took a serious beating from that downpour. We have to count our blessings. The answer to "Is this Hell?" is "No". If this were Hell, there would be no love, and no hope. But there is still love, and there is still hope.
Good luck to us all.
DRutter, MediKatie, and Brett
Okanagan, BC, Canada