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Avalanche and Forest Fire


Fact or fiction?

The Whistler Valley is full of myths and legends ? Intrawest will be bought by Disneyland; the Olympics will come to town; The Question will increase its readers; and so on.

In a valley so full of rumours, it sometimes gets difficult to discern between fact and fiction.

Then there are times that the line between fact and fiction become so blurred that they become indistinguishable. The tale of Avalanche and Forest Fire is one such story.

Avalanche was just minding his own business, hanging out in the solitude of his mountain home and sliding down slopes.

But Avalanche was lonely. Then, one day, he met Forest Fire. "She?s hot," Avalanche said to himself.

Forest Fire was different than Avalanche. Forest Fire had lots of humans who liked to snuggle up and live close to her.

But opposites do attract and Avalanche melted at the sight of Forest Fire. So Avalanche eventually worked up the nerve and asked Forest Fire out on a date. They got along well and had a great time.

Avalanche showed Forest Fire around his mountain home. "He?s so cool," Forest Fire said to herself. She introduced Avalanche to her human friends.

One thing led to another and Avalanche and Forest Fire moved into a mountain valley together. But the humans missed Forest Fire. So they moved into the valley too, just to be close to her.

Everything was fine for a while. The humans respected both Avalanche and Forest Fire. But then the humans, as they are sometimes prone to do, started trying to control Avalanche?s fracture faults and suppress Forest Fire?s burning desires.

For a while, Avalanche didn?t mind. He?s a pretty easy-going guy. Avalanche is OK as long as he gets to slide around a bit.

So whenever it looked like Avalanche was going to crack, the humans stopped everything and let him do his thing. Sometimes the humans even helped Avalanche get started.

Forest Fire, on the other hand, is pretty emotional and has a hot temper. Forest Fire needs to express her feelings.

But whenever it looked like Forest Fire was about to explode, the humans pretended there was nothing wrong and went about their business as usual.

Seasons came and went. Years turned into decades. Avalanche and Forest Fire eventually split up. Perhaps it was from the pressure of living under the cloud of human expectations. No one?s quite sure.

Anyway, Avalanche couldn?t take it anymore and returned to the solitude of his mountain bachelor pad, where he could hang out and slide down slopes in peace without being controlled.

In the meantime, Forest Fire was becoming more and more fed up with the humans. She missed Avalanche and her feelings had been suppressed by the humans for too long. So one day, when she couldn?t stand it anymore, Forest Fire blew up.

In retrospect, the humans should have seen it coming. But they couldn?t see the forest for the trees and there was nothing they could do. They were playing with fire and they got burned.

Coming Through Fire: The Wildland Firefighter Experience by Noel Hendrickson and David Greer (Raincoast Books) portrays Forest Fire?s hot temper and raw beauty.

The best example from this book of excellent photos is an image from the 1998 Salmon Arm fire ? the most destructive fire in B.C. history.

The red glow of a burning forest contrasts with intense orange flames that have engulfed a hay barn. "We could not control that force, whose power is terrifying and beautiful," writes Hendrickson. "It?s something you can?t take your eyes off."

The Salmon Arm fire torched more than 6,000 hectares, caused the evacuation of 7,000 people, destroyed more than 40 buildings and cost more than $10-million to extinguish.

According to local forest fire experts, the Whistler area is susceptible to the same type of blaze ? a wildland-urban interface fire.

After years of fire suppression, foresters have come to realize that fire is part of the natural cycle. Controlled burns are now used as a management tool ? similar to the reasons behind avalanche control. Nature is now being allowed to run its course.

That?s where the parable of Avalanche and Forest Fire and the reality of the Salmon Arm fire melt into one. But that?s also when we need to understand the lessons from each and work towards keeping fact separate from fiction.

? Greig Bethel