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Pemberton fires force cancellation of events

Barn Dance went ahead as planned

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Ongoing fires in the Pemberton Meadows area have forced the cancellation of some big events within the community, but others remained in place to provide a "pick me up" in worrying times.

Saturday's annual Pemberton Barn Dance went ahead as planned but the fires and resulting smoke have cancelled both the Slow Food Cycle Sunday and a three-club auto racing night at Pemberton Speedway on Highway 99. The latter was planned for last Saturday while the Slow Food Cycle was to take place this weekend, on Aug. 16.

Chief organizer Anna Helmer said it was necessary to cancel the Slow Food Cycle because she didn't want thousands of riders to block the Pemberton Meadows road, close to where two giant fires continue to burn.

"It's the only emergency route up there," she said. "There's farmers that are on evacuation alert and there's other ones that have actually been ordered out. Our ride is about supporting farming and farmers so I don't think it would be very supportive of us to throw 3,000 people on the road (that is) their emergency evacuation route."

Last year's Slow Food Cycle was a record year for riders, bringing 2,300 people from all over the world to the Spud Valley to sample foods from the lush farmlands that Pemberton is famous for. This would have been the fifth year for the event.

"There's been a pattern of more or less doubling each year," Helmer said. "So I don't think there was going to be 5,000 people this year; we'll never know how many there would have been."

The event hasn't been rescheduled for this year. It will take place on Aug. 15, 2010.

"It's an event that we totally organized by word of mouth so now we're trying to cancel it by word of mouth," she said. "It's made it to Vancouver though, so people in Vancouver know, so that's a good sign."

The Pemberton Stock Car Racing Association initially hoped to hold a racing night at the Pemberton Speedway last Saturday but fires have nixed that event too, although organizers hope to reschedule to another night. Other clubs involved in the race were the motocross club and the Four-Wheel Drive Club.

"We've all grown up around here, we realized the situation, so as soon as it cools off we'll set up another date," said Rick Sutherland, a pit boss and technical advisor at the races who just retired.

Sutherland was looking forward to racing a '49 Pontiac hobby class race car in his first year of retirement but he's hopeful that another night will be arranged soon.

A resident of Pemberton for 40 years who now lives in Birken, he's never seen fires like the ones raging right now.

"We've had some bad fires," he said. "I used to work in the bush years ago, but not like this year. Everything's tinder dry and going crazy.

"People have to watch what they do. We had a couple (fires) around here last week, we had little events and they lit bonfires. They were told right away to put them out, and they did."

The Pemberton Barn Dance made its grand return to the Spud Valley on Saturday as planned. Last year's event was rolled into the Pemberton Festival but this time it stood out on its own.

Paul Selina, former president of the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce and now chief organizer of the Barn Dance, said organizers took numerous precautions to ensure the event would go ahead.

"We've had the sprinklers going for some three, four days, to make sure everything's wet," he said last week. "(The) air quality's not great, we're encouraging people to, if they've got respirators for medical purposes, to bring them along.

"There's a lot of things being cancelled but people really want the Barn Dance to happen which is great."

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