After a month-long deployment following wildfires in Shuswap, British Columbia, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers wrap up relief work in Jesus’ Name.
For forty years, Yuri has called British Columbia’s Shuswap country home. Or in his words, “It’s paradise.”
The whispering pine, fir, and spruce trees that climb up the mountainside to his small clearing open just enough to give him a glimpse of sparkling Shuswap Lake below. But ever since this summer, that view is framed by soot, ash, and charred debris.
When the wildfire came through in August, it took everything.
“I Couldn’t Breathe”
As Yuri stood with our teams and traced his eyes over the damage, the memory of seeing it for the first time came flooding back: “I was shocked. I couldn’t breathe,” he said solemnly. Four footprints of ash mark the spots a shop, a gazebo, and two small cabin homes once stood. One home belonged to Yuri and the other to his friend Peter.*
A few days before the wildfire, Yuri had packed his possessions and even temporarily left his home in what turned out to be a false alarm. When he returned, “[the fire] was actually getting better,” Yuri said. “The wind was blowing from the lake [away from the community], and the smoke was almost gone.” Yuri even felt good enough to unpack some of his things.
“The Mountain Was Already Burning”
Then, the situation changed in an instant. Yuri’s partner, who lives a short distance away, called and said they had to leave immediately. The fire was charging toward them.
Jumping into their vehicles, the pair drove through a raging inferno to reach safety. “The mountain was already burning,” Yuri recalled. Two hours later, they had to flee again when Sorento, British Columbia, where they had stopped, was also threatened by flames. Yuri was just thankful he and his partner survived, “along with our cats,” Yuri remembered with a slight smile.
Those smiles have been so much harder to come by in these days of loss. As Yuri and many other Shuswap residents have returned home, they’ve come back to terrible destruction. “I didn’t want to believe it was going to burn,” Yuri said, surrounded by ash. “This is a different community from others: close to nature. We don’t care for profit,” he continued. “We had our little paradise. We would all like to stay here because of the special community … we want to rebuild.”
Partners like you have helped Yuri and the residents of Shuswap take that first step to recovery.
“I Was Amazed”
In mid-September, a Samaritan’s Purse relief team and convoy—including one of our Disaster Relief Unit tractor trailers—arrived in the town of Scotch Creek. The vehicles carried all the tools and safety gear to equip volunteers to help in Jesus’ Name.
“I was amazed at the generosity and openness of people that I never would have expected,” Yuri said while orange-shirted and Tyvek-clad Samaritan’s Purse volunteers worked around him. They took down, cut up, and neatly stacked dozens of burned trees that were at risk of falling. They then searched the ashes of Yuri’s small home and then his friend’s house for anything that survived the flames.
“We couldn’t afford this clean-up,” Yuri told us.
Finding Glimpses of Hope
The team pulled from the rubble a pottery set, a couple of bird figurines, and pieces of artwork collected all the way from Asia. They were small items; small glimpses of hope that can mean so much in a time of crisis.
“It means a lot. You always hear about Christians—good and bad. This is such a humanitarian effort that I haven’t experienced … I’m amazed at how selfless this is.”
As the volunteers finished at Yuri’s home, they presented him with a Bible signed by each of them. Vic, who led the team, shared Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan—found in Luke 10—and His call to love our neighbor in need. Vic then prayed with Yuri, who, with a hand over his heart and the other holding his Bible, expressed his gratitude for the love he experienced.
Seeing Selfless Love
Throughout the month-long response in Shuswap, 78 volunteers, many serving for a week or more, selflessly came alongside those in need. Some came from as far away as New Brunswick, while many others volunteered from local churches or were residents of the area. The community’s strength and resolve was on full display.
Among the local volunteers were Wayne and Kathy, who worked tirelessly, sifting through ashes and encouraging hurting homeowners. Their help came in a way few others could offer because they, too, saw their home destroyed in the fire.
After a Samaritan’s Purse team helped Wayne and Kathy search the remains of their house, the couple joined the team to care for others. “The small things they did for us were meaningful,” Wayne shared. “It’s so sad to see the things that are brought out of the ashes. It’s not the same, but it still has meaning.”
“We felt that this was a crossroads in our life,” Kathy said. “Not that we didn’t have a purpose in our life, but we do now.”
“Now, it’s my turn to help,” Wayne concluded.
Thanking God for Generosity
We thank God for Wayne and Kathy, the many other volunteers who served, the local churches, and partners like you who selflessly showed God’s love and hope in a time of crisis.
A few weeks before the Shuswap response wrapped up in mid-October, another Samaritan’s Purse team finished serving homeowners in West Kelowna, British Columbia, about two hours drive south. In total, our teams had the opportunity to help more than 90 families in Jesus’ Name—sharing the Gospel in word and deed. Our teams also operated two evacuation centers to provide places to stay for many more residents.
We are now exploring how to continue walking with families on the long road to recovery. Please keep praying for them. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
*Name changed to protect privacy.