Living and breathing with wildfire smoke – National Observer

by ahnationtalk on November 21, 2023124 Views

November 21st 2023

Wilfred Tomma is no stranger to fire. Now in his 80s, Uncle Wilfred, as he’s known to many on his First Nation in B.C., has war stories of the years he fought fires, especially the big Dean inferno. Some days, he was so tired working the firelines that he would forget to eat and would fall asleep where he stood, waking up in a pool of water.

“I remember those times. I remember a lot,” he said with a long pause. “Sad but true. The young folks today as they live with the fire. I don’t think they would ever come close to the real nature of a fire. They would never want to be caught next to a big fire like that.”

Now, Tomma, from Skwlāx te Secwepemcúl̓ecw around 70 kilometres east of Kamloops, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He partly blames “the stuff” he inhaled working the firelines so many years ago, often when the protective gear was sparse compared to now, but acknowledges it’s difficult to pin down an exact cause.

Tomma was also a smoker. It’s a pastime he recalls fondly: he used to sit on his veranda, share a conversation with his common-law partner and watch the community baseball games across the street.

The veranda is now only a memory. Tomma’s home was one of 34 destroyed this year when a wildfire tore through Swklāx in August, evacuating the community. He remains displaced in a vacation cabin in a town 15 minutes away from Skwlāx waiting for the rebuild and recovery of his community. The cold late autumn air passes through his cabin’s windows and the hum of two space heaters runs constantly.

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