Like many British Columbians in 2017, Claudia Cornwall found herself glued to the news about the disastrous wildfires across the province. Her worry was personal: her cabin at Sheridan Lake had been in the family for sixty years and was now in danger of destruction.
Cornwall, a long-time writer, was stricken not just by her own experience, but by the many moving stories she came across about the fires—so she began collecting them. She met with people from BC communities of Sheridan Lake, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, 16 Mile House, Lac La Hache, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Hanceville-Riske Creek and Clinton. She hoped to be a conduit for the voices she heard—for those who fought the fires raging around them, those who were evacuated and displaced, and those who could do nothing but watch as their homes burned. She conducted over fifty hours of interviews with ranchers, cottagers, Indigenous residents, RCMP officers, evacuees, store and resort owners, search and rescue volunteers, firefighters and local government officials.
Presented in British Columbia in Flames are stories that illustrate the importance of community. During the 2017 wildfires, people looked after strangers who had no place to go. They shared information. They helped each other rescue and shelter animals. They kept stores open day and night to supply gas, food and comfort to evacuees. This memoir, at once journalistic and deeply personal, highlights the strength with which BC communities can and will come together to face a terrifying force of nature.
About the author
Claudia Cornwall is a freelance writer for over 20 years, has written two books. The second one, Letter from Vienna: A Daughter Uncovers her Family’s Jewish Past, won the BC Book Prize for best non-fiction in 1996. She has been published in many Canadian magazines and newspapers including The Globe & Mail, Reader's Digest, (the Canadian, the international and the Mainland China editions), BC Business, as well as the on-line magazine, Tyee. She teaches courses about ethical and legal issues for writers as well as courses in memoir writing at SFU and Douglas College. In March 2009, she received a $20,000 journalism award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to support the writing of a series of stories about health research. Claudia Cornwall grew up in Vancouver and studied philosophy at UBC and the University of Calgary. She is married and has a son and a daughter and lives in North Vancouver.
- Nominated, Jean Clarke Awards
- Short-listed, Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Book Prize
- Unknown, Honourable Mention in the British Columbia Historical Federation’s Lieutenant Governor’s Writing Competition
“The people portrayed in this book were plunged into a dramatic situation with very little guidance and often minimal communication. Neighbours, even those who had not previously met, pulled together, organized themselves, protected homes and livestock, and survived. [British Columbia in Flames] is a testament to the kind of resilience and personal resourcefulness that people can arise to in the face of disaster and chaos.”
Chris Czajkowski, author of Captured by Fire
“The summer of 2017 burnt itself—literally as well as figuratively—into British Columbia’s collective memory. Journalist Claudia Cornwall records the worst fire season in provincial history, from the vast indifference of climate change imposing its will upon the landscape to the intensely personal tales of fleeing homesteaders saving their livestock. British Columbia in Flames is simply a terrific book, as literary journalism and as a chronicle of fiery apocalypse, both present and yet to come. Buy it. You won’t regret it.”
Stephen Hume, journalist and author