The Deka Lake Wildfire

On Wednesday, June 30th, I drove from Prince George where I had been visiting family to our cabin at Deka Lake. Deka is one of beautiful lakes in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, inhabited by many people year-round and popular with summer visitors. I was looking forward to a night with my son who would be there for the weekend. Instead, we would face the Deka Lake Wildfire.

As I drove through 100 Mile House, smoke was heavy. I could feel it my lungs, and it lingered in my nose and mouth. I knew there was a fire at Kamloops and another at Lytton. At the lake the smoke cleared, and my son and I caught up on news. As always, Cariboo skies provided endlessly fascinating clouds, and I snapped a photo of a massive one.

The leading edge of the storm

I knew thunderstorms were predicted and this looked threatening. At the southwestern end of the lake, the skies were eerily beautiful (below). Later, we would focus most of our attention on that exact spot.

The Deka Lake wildfire starts

The storm started in late afternoon. I love a good thunderstorm but was concerned as the forests were tinder dry. Lightning struck deep into the hills all around us. Thunder clapped right above as a few boaters risked the lake. The wind picked up. A brief shower fell. The same clouds circled us shaking us with their claps of noise and forks of light.

My son and I both spoke at the exact same time: “I smell smoke.” We saw dark puffs rising from behind a ridge across the southwestern side of the lake.

My son phoned BC Wildfire Service [*5555 on a cell phone]. The person who answered asked if the fire was near electrical wires and homes – this area is full of rural homes.

After this point, I can’t be too certain of times, but I believe we saw the fire at around 6:30. I informed a family from the Lower Mainland staying at the B&B next to us of the fire and that we had reported it. Then we checked in with other neighbours and we all watched. The following photo shows the smoke billowing up across the lake as everyone waited.

People watch and wait.

We knew that the forest service would be unlikely to douse any significant fire before nightfall. About an hour later a helicopter arrived and circled the blaze several times. That was followed by a small plane. Around 7:30, we heard more planes. Between 7 and 8:30 p.m., large aircraft made multiple passes, dropping fire retardant and water on the blaze. It felt like a war movie was happening and I cheered and waved as one passed low overhead.  (See the video which shows some of the planes. At this point, I stopped taking photos.) When the planes didn’t return, we fixated on the fire area. The smoke seemed to have stopped. We hoped.

Fires are all around us

Heroes arrive to fight the fire.

During this period, we had called home to the Lower Mainland. Our family jumped onto various websites to sort out where the fire was in relation to us. But the postings online couldn’t keep up with all the fires that were popping up. It seemed that the one we saw was near Interlakes – our route south. (We now know it was the much closer Judson Road fire.) We heard of others at Bridge Lake and Sheridan Lake – the exit route to Kamloops. Another was reported at Horse Lake where RCMP was asking people to stay off the roads – our route to 100 Mile House (so named because of its strategic location on the gold rush trail). We learned that, further south, Highway 97 to Vancouver was shut down because of fire at Lytton.

We prepared our belongings so we could leave if necessary and ate a quick dinner while family continued investigating. Thunder rumbled around us. We did not know if any of our exit routes were safe. The only known road closure was at Lytton, many miles to the south. Would more fires pop up or block our way if wind increased?

About 9:30, we conferred again with family. The consensus was that Horse Lake Road to 100 Mile House was the most secure option because that fire had been mentioned only once, and the precise location was unclear. While we were talking, smoke billowed up again across the lake. Our decision was made, and we loaded the cars. I had been keeping the family at the B&B apprised of all we were learning, and I walked across again to let them know our decision. As we were about to leave, one of them told us they were also packing up to leave as Deka Lake had been put on evacuation alert. As I turned, I saw flames above the ridge. I don’t know if there is anything more terrifying.

We were all calm throughout this, but I can tell you the tension was very present. I could feel tremors running through my body and could see the worry on the faces of my family. Even as I write this, my unease is still present.

Evacuation from the Deka Lake Wildfire

Darkness dropped like a blackout curtain over us as we left the lake in separate cars. It was hard to see. As we approached the turnoff onto Horse Lake Road, two huge vehicles with their lights shining at us appeared to be blocking our way. We thought they were going to prevent us from passing, but there was room to go by. It looked like a pickup truck had gone into a guard rail, but I couldn’t be sure. A kilometer or two later, two more vehicles loomed with their bright lights ahead – this time fixing downed powerlines. A flag person waved us through, but communications had been mixed up, because another truck was approaching us head on. More unfamiliar vehicles appeared further down the road. The night seemed to be taking on apocalyptic proportions and the forty-minute drive seemed interminable.

We reached 100 Mile House, spent the night in a hotel and the next day drove home. That day we heard fire had destroyed the town of Lytton. Lytton had been engulfed by flames in minutes and people ran for their lives. At present two people are known to have died. Residents of Deka Lake and Sulphurous Lake were ordered to evacuate the day after the storm. Today they are still under evacuation.

This account of my flight from the Deka Wildfire seems overly dramatic to me now as I reread it. We are safe and our experience seems so slight, but I am grateful. I know it could have been very different. Judson Road intersects with all the exits from Deka except one remote back road. With a closer lightning strike or different winds, we might not have been able to escape.

I need to end this way:

I would like first to express my sympathy for the terrible tragedy at Lytton. At the present time, two people are known to be deceased and others are missing. Relatives of our close friends have lost everything. And all too often, it is those who have so little who suffer the most. The fires in BC continue to rage, including the Deka Lake Wildfire.

Second, I would like to cheer and honour all those courageous firefighters, police, pilots, volunteers at reception centres and others who put their own wellbeing at risk to protect us. They are true heroes.

Next, this fire season has started early. It is another year of unprecedented temperatures, months of smoke, pain and suffering. Fires are burning from the north to the south. Thousands of other families around BC are at risk. Our lush cedar forests cannot survive extreme heat. The wild creatures that make this part of the world so incredible will die of heat, or from fires, or for lack of food or water. People in our cities are suffering and dying of heat exhaustion. Glaciers are melting at an extraordinary rate. What will we do when glacier water no longer fills our rivers and lakes? How will we cope when temperatures become even more unbearable? There are no miracles. There is only hope through action.

We have to demand that governments and corporations act. And we each must challenge ourselves to do more, because to do nothing is to leave a grim legacy for future generations. I invite comment. But please, if you are a climate denier, I do not want to hear from you.

I write books and I write reviews of books for The Miramichi Reader.

Impurity by Larry Tremblay, Translated by Sheila Fischman

Reviewed in The Miramichi Reader by Patricia Sandberg

I thoroughly enjoyed the interlocking layers of Impurity by Larry Tremblay. A playwright, poet and essayist in addition to novelist, it’s Tremblay the playwright at work in this book as scenes shift before us.

Tremblay plays with us. He walks us through a “trap full of mirrors” where reflections cannot be trusted. The play within the play, the book within the book told through multiple characters’ points of view. A challenging and worthy read.

See the full review of Impurity in The Miramichi Reader. See my other book reviews here:  Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor; Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Carol Bruneau, Melt by Heidi Wicks, Skin House by Michael Blouin, Rising Tides edited by Catriona Sandilands, and The Group of Seven, Reimagined, edited by Karen Schauber. To read some reviews of my book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake, click here.

Cottagers and Indians, by Drew Hayden Taylor

Reviewed in The Miramichi Reader by Patricia Sandberg

Ojibway writer Drew Hayden Taylor drew on real-life events to write Cottager and Indians (published by Talon Books). A CBC documentary also covered the original controversy.

Arthur Copper, an Indigenous man, wants to grow and harvest wild rice from a quiet lake in Ontario’s cottage country. His adversary, a white woman named Maureen Poole, wants to retain the peaceful cottage experience she and her family have enjoyed for years.

Who is entitled to own or use land, or in this case, water is only one of several contemporary and provocative issues underlying the story.

Taylor employs humour with great skill in the interactions between the characters, which led Cottager and Indians to being shortlisted for the 2020 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

See the full review in The Miramichi Reader. See my other book reviews here: Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Carol Bruneau, Melt by Heidi Wicks, Skin House by Michael Blouin, Impurity by Larry Tremblay, Rising Tides edited by Catriona Sandilands, and The Group of Seven, Reimagined, edited by Karen Schauber. To read some reviews of my book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake, click here.

Brighten the Corner Where You Are, a Novel Inspired by the Life of Maud Lewis

Reviewed in The Miramichi Reader by Patricia Sandberg

Nova Scotia artist Maud Lewis, a character perhaps as folkloric as her paintings, comes to life in Carol Bruneau’s reimagining of her in Brighten the Corner Where You Are.

See my review of this fine book in The Miramichi Reader of Brighten the Corner Where You Are, a Novel Inspired by the Life of Maud Lewis, written by Carol Bruneau and published by Vagrant Press.

Carol Bruneau is the author of three short story collections and four novels. Her first novel, Purple for Sky, won the 2001 Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and the Dartmouth Book Award. Her 2007 novel, Glass Voices, was a Globe and Mail Best Book. Her reviews, stories, and essays have appeared nationwide in newspapers, journals, and anthologies, and two of her novels have been published internationally. 

See my other book reviews here: Melt by Heidi Wicks, Skin House by Michael Blouin, Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor, Impurity by Larry Tremblay, Rising Tides edited by Catriona Sandilands, and The Group of Seven, Reimagined, edited by Karen Schauber. To read some reviews of my book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake, click here.

Book Review of Novel ‘Melt’ by Heidi Wicks

Reviewed in The Miramichi Reader by Patricia Sandberg

Melt is a modern relationship story: friends, husbands and wives, parents and children with the challenges that these connections bring. The author Heidi Wicks employs snappy, smart and frank dialogue to get into the minds and hearts of the two modern protagonists and adeptly builds scenes.

See my full book review of novel Melt by Heidi Wicks in The Miramichi Reader. Melt is published by Breakwater Books Ltd.

Heidi Wicks has written for The Telegram, The Independent, Newfoundland Quarterly, CBC, and The Globe and Mail. In 2019, she won the Cox and Palmer Creative Writing Award. She lives in St. John’s. 

See my other book reviews here: Skin House by Michael Blouin, Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor, Impurity by Larry Tremblay, Rising Tides edited by Catriona Sandilands, and The Group of Seven, Reimagined edited by Karen Schauber. To read some reviews of my book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake, click here.

Skin House, A book review and recommend

Review in The Miramichi Reader of Skin House by Michael Blouin.

I’m very pleased to share my review in The Miramichi Reader of Skin House by Michael Blouin.

Skin House got me with this line on its back cover: “Skin House is a story about two guys who end up in the same bar they started out in.” I thought, sweet, a kind of modern Waiting for Godot storyWrong. But oh, so good in what it does do.

The book is irreverent and saucy, unexpected and poignant, none of which gives it enough credit. You can read the review here

Michael Blouin has won the ReLit Award (Best Novel), been shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award, the bp Nichol Award, the CBC Literary Award, and is a winner of the Diana Brebner Award and the 2012 Lampman Award from ARC magazine and has been published in a host of prestigious literary magazines.

Skin House is written by Michael Blouin and published by Anvil Press Publishers, Vancouver and is on the 2020 longlist for The Miramichi Reader’s “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Fiction.

To see my other book reviews: Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times (nonfiction); and The Group of Seven Reimagined (nonfiction).

A Swedish immigrant’s journey

I’m so honoured that The Swedish Press has published my grandfather’s immigrant journey, ‘In the Tradition of Immigrants Everywhere‘.

My grandfather Johan Ferdinand (Fred) Sandberg’s immigrant journey from Sweden took him to Canada’s east and west coasts and from southern Manitoba to Great Bear Lake in the far north.

Fred’s early work included delivering mail by dogsled. His construction skills contributed to Canada’s wartime activities, including at secret uranium projects to supply the Manhattan Project during WWII and during the Cold War. You can read about his journey here.

Mail delivery by dog team to Churchill, Manitoba, cerca 1913-14. A Swedish immigrant journey.

Fred’s story is like that of most immigrants, a decision by a man or woman to leave their home and family in search of a new and better life. It takes courage to make such a decision. It requires luck, resolve and the support of others to succeed. My grandfather had all of these qualities and received such support. Along the way, he participated by chance in significant developments in the early 20th century.

Extracted with permission from The Swedish Press. “My grandparents were passionate Canadians. They chose to fully contribute and assimilate into Canadian society while maintaining their core attachment to Sweden. Fred was only able to visit his family once, which must have been very difficult for all. Although I heard Swedish on records that Fred and Freda played on their turntable, I heard never heard them speak it. None of their children spoke Swedish. My grandparents showcased their heritage in their love of entertaining, the lavish Christmas table weighted down with pickled herring and pigs’ feet, and my grandmother’s famous meatballs.”

The Swedish Press is a very fine magazine about – you guessed it – all things Swedish. Their exquisite judgement is shown in their very positive review of Sun Dogs and Yellowcake which you can see here and which I wrote about here.

Sun Dogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines, A Canadian Story tells the history of early uranium production in Canada. It features Gunnar Mines, Saskatchewan, where former residents still say:

‘it was the best place they ever lived’.

Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times, Book Review

I’m very pleased to share my review in The Miramichi Reader of the climate change anthology Rising Tides.

We live on this earth without reflecting sufficiently on how we impact it. Through story, poetry and personal climate testimonies, Rising Tides offers us a window into the feelings and views of forty-two writers closely connected to the climate crisis.

“The way rain falls the spring of life seed to root, stem to leaves. Oh trees, weather maker, life shaper, air sweet. Language of snail, moss lichen. Everything returns …” The intricate simplicity and beauty of Hiromi Goto’s language in ‘This is the Way’ particularly resonated with me, reinforcing one of the anthology’s messages to observe and listen to the change around us.

You can read the review here. Rising Tides is edited by Catriona Sandilands and published by Caitlin Press.

Remember ordinary people, extraordinary heroes

Honeymoon, 1917. My grandmother Nellie is taking the photo. Her hat lies at Cleve’s feet.

Remembrance Day November 11, 2019

It is one hundred and one years from the end of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars, yet didn’t. Throughout history, men and women have sacrificed their lives in war for family and country. November 11th is their day.

This post honours two members of my family .

Major Cleve Jacob

My gentle grandfather Major Cleve Jacob immigrated to Saskatchewan from England and wanted to sign up the moment that World War I was declared. He was persuaded to first bring in the harvest.

He joined the 5th Field Artillery Brigade with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on October 9, 1914, his role being to look after the horses and pull guns into position. He also repaired communication lines – a solo operation, which he was doing when he was wounded the first time. Medics at a First Aid Station patched him up and sent him on for further treatment. One half hour later, an artillery shell destroyed the First Aid Station.

Cleve served at the Somme, Paschendale, Vimy Ridge, and the Battle of Amien where he was again wounded. On the eleventh day of the twelfth month, 1918, King George V pinned the Military Medal on his chest.

Cleve re-enlisted at the start of World War II and was temporarily tasked with recruiting soldiers for an active battalion. When told he was too old to go overseas, he continued in his recruitment role for the war’s duration. Like most of those who served, he was reluctant to share his memories and died long before it occurred to me to ask.

Sergeant John Larkin

Sergeant John Larkin is the superbly mustachioed fellow on the far right.

My great grandfather Sergeant John Larkin (my grandmother’s father) was born in 1862 and was a 20-year member of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, including during a conflict between the British and French over the Suez Canal. He was awarded the British Egypt Medal and the Khedive’s Star. He had just immigrated to Canada when WWI was declared. John immediately signed up (putting his age as 49 when he was actually 51) with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was in the first group to go to England.

From April 22 – 24, 1915, the Germans employed gas against troops at Ypres Salient. John was deployed on the front line and was killed on April 23rd. He is buried at Menin Gate where every night at 8 p.m. the Last Post is played. 

Menin Gate Memorial

The Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, Belgium has a Hall of Memory. Carved in stone above the arch: “To the Armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave.” Over the two staircases leading from the Main Hall is the inscription “Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.”

The memorial bears the names of 55,000 men who were lost without a trace. Sergeant John Larkin’s grave reference is PANEL 24-28-30

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission page is an excellent source of information. You can search for your family members at the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

My immense gratitude to my 92-year-young mother Barbara Sandberg for undertaking this family research from which I have shamelessly copied.

The Group of Seven Reimagined, Book Review

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings, editor Karen Schauber has paired twenty-one beautifully-reproduced works of art by The Group of Seven and associated artists with fine storytelling by prominent, contemporary writers. The writers each chose a painting that resonated with them and wrote a story inspired by what they saw.

The Group of Seven Reimagined, edited by Karen Schauber

Like a fine wine with dinner, some things cry out to be paired. In Reimagined, the nearly hundred-year-old brandy that was the Group of Seven is introduced to a fresh vibrant cuisine that is flash fiction, and both are the richer for it.

The Ottawa Review of Books published my full review of this book in its October edition. For information about how the project developed, biographies of the writers included, or to purchase, visit the book website.

Edited by Karen Schauber.
Published 2019 by Heritage House. ISBN – 978-1-77203-288-8.
Available through Heritage House and

AY Jackson of The Group of Seven visited Gunnar Mines and Uranium City twice to paint. Jackson, along with Lawren Harris, also painted many times at Great Bear Lake, the site of Port Radium’s uranium mine.