Standing out at Oliver Lake, it was clear something big and very wrong was happening in Prince Rupert.
What started as a small thick cloud of smoke over the edge of Mount Hays was growing bigger and bigger with each passing second until it became the dominant visual in the sky. The family jumped in the truck and, just like when the house began to move back in October, my mind clicked into reporter mode as we drove back to town.
Driving toward the smoke one couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps a major road had been shut down. Traffic was backed up from the corner of Frederick and 7th East back past Maverick Foods. Traffic continued to move like molasses in January as we got closer to Seal Cove Circle, at one point almost blocking access to a fire truck with sirens blaring and lights flashing.
It was unquestionably the biggest traffic jam I’ve seen in the seven years of living in Prince Rupert.
When we arrived, word was already circulating about a plane crash being responsible for the fire. People claimed they had seen a plane flying overhead and then dropping near the horizon. It wasn’t just at the scene, people were calling my number to tell their stories. My heart dropped a bit in my chest and immediately turned to the pilots I know in town and have flown with on trips to Haida Gwaii.
But answers were nowhere to be found. While it’s understandable members of the fire department weren’t available to talk, obviously busy with battling the blaze, the silence from the RCMP was deafening. There was nobody at the site willing or able to answer media questions, and the media spokesperson said he would have some kind of comment the next morning.
The next morning, while fire chief Dave Mackenzie was immediately avalable and very helpful, the RCMP advised a media release would be coming by 4 p.m.
With rumours of a potential death causing a massive fire, the RCMP needed to do a better job of informing the public. They failed.