Lighting strikes against a pitch black sky.

Photo Credit: John Fowler | Flickr

What Happens When Lightning Strikes Zeballos?

Small VanIsle towns are thanking the heavens for this summer's rain

With no fire department, folks in this NorthIsle village have to face the heat themselves

Big lighting shows are awe-inspiring.

Unless you have no fire department. Then they’re a bit scary.

The thunderstorm that made its way across NorthIsle last week sparked more than ten spot fires. Thanks to the rain and our awesome firefighters, they’re all out or under control.

That’s great news. But remember how dry things were last year? Fires in those conditions can get wild really fast.

Last summer, the Ehattesaht First Nation near Zeballos declared a state of emergency when lighting started a fire near their community. A 2018 blaze led to long evacuation orders.

At the end of May of this year, Zeballos lost all access to even its volunteer fire department. With only six volunteers and no fire chief, the Village of Zeballos Council had to suspend the fire department.

With less than ten volunteers and no fire chief, they can’t get training or fight any fires.

This leaves residents to take the heat.

The village mayor and council announced that the move to disband the fire department would be temporary. But months later, there’s still no local fire department.

While this may sound shocking, for villagers, it’s really no surprise.

The population in Zeballos has been shrinking along with the forest and fishing industries in the area.

The 600 people who lived there at its peak have fallen to just 110 today. 

Christina Lepore owns a local apartment building, liquor store, hotel, and kayak company. “We don’t have police or healthcare because [the hospital] in Port McNeill is always shutting down, and now we don’t have a functioning fire department,” she told the Times Colonist.

If a fire does break out, Lepore plans to get outta dodge. “I’m not going to fight nothing,” she told the Vancouver Sun.

To be fair, she’s in her 70s.

Mayor Julie Colborne said residents can still call 911 if they see a fire. There is still a dispatch system in place. But there will be “no response to a fire callout.” 

In 2018, a wildfire raged over a mountain that overlooks the village. It forced everyone to cut and run.

BC Wildfire Service dropped buckets of water from helicopters, and heroes from the local fire department soaked forests surrounding homes. 

They protected the village. If a similar fire happened today, though? The outcome may not be so sure.

We are looking to remedy this and fill the other vacancies in the department,” wrote Colborne in a press release. “Please volunteer today and help be part of the solution.” 

Other small towns have faced similar problems in previous years.

The closest local fire department for Zeballos is 122 km away in Port Hardy. They’ve faced their own struggles trying to keep their fire service going.

The Port Hardy volunteer department is made up of contractors, business people, forestry and wind-farm workers, one Class 1 driver who can drive the trucks, and a 76-year-old retiree who does maintenance on all the machines.

It might seem like a motley crew, but getting them all together was a hard-fought battle for the city.

They got folks to volunteer by using social media to form the fire squad they have today.

Brent Borg is the Port Hardy Fire Chief. “I tell them, we’re the only 30 in town that do what we do, and we should be very proud of what we do,” he told the Times Colonist.

If Zeballos needed them, though? It’s unlikely they’d make it there to help with much besides cleanup.

If you live in Zeballos and are interested in becoming a volunteer, you can go to the fire department hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday evenings and apply to be a member.