When the fires started they started in the nice houses of Kaleden, a small brush fire lit by a homeowner in the kindling dry month of July that spread up and over the neighboring hills, carried along by the grasses of the grassfields dry and brown and engulfing a home nearby, flattening that home to embers and the charred bits of a foundation, a nice home that was big and well built and strong on memory. The fire burned hydro lines and cut the power up west towards Twin Lakes and farther south toward the town of OK Falls, and when the power went out so too did the electric pumps that the homeowners of the other nice houses were using to pump water onto their own homes, and also to the cell towers and the phones, and the lights of the town of Kaleden.
That’s when the fires really started. Crews of helicopters and trucks of men and women in soot-stained coveralls, air drops to the tune of thousands of gallons of water. All of this put out the fire of Kaleden, but the rest of the natural interior seemed to gather momentum from this idiotic spark and spot fires here and there, spread by kilometers, started larger fires that were bellowed by the intemperate sun and the cloudless sky, the winds relentless. A fire in the west of Kelowna burning farms and livestock. A wildfire north of Princeton of thousands and thousands of forested acres smothering this province and others in amber smoke and ash. Fires in Montana to the south, farther north in Prince George and also farther east, the entire west of the country emblazoned or ready to be so with an errant cigarette butt, a strike of lightning, an off color sideways glance. A fire even in Naramata, unspeakable and frothing in a vineyard. The vineyards cannot burn said the owners in Naramata, evoking a divine right. The vineyards cannot burn.
But throughout California to the south and France across the ocean, vineyards did burn. Vintage fields of gnarled vine trellised along cable and wood fencing were turned to ash, fires indifferent to status and wealth and history. Iconic wineries reduced to nothing but insurance claims and blog postings, stock images of disaster on Facebook. And the owners in Naramata gathered in their tasting rooms, on their decks overlooking Okanagan Lake, and unspeaking they nodded in agreement that yes, they were not beyond the reach of ruin.