By Zoe Melnyk
Thursday, July 6, 2017
After a Williams Lake Tribune reporter leaves for vacation, Editor Angie Mindus receives texts from the reporter about fires happening at 100 Mile House, just an hour south of Williams Lake.
Friday, July 7, 2017
Mindus embarks on a pre–planned drive to take two of her three kids –one 9 the other 14– to stay for a few days with her parents on the east side of Jasper, Alberta. Her husband –a BC Hydro worker– and their twelve–year–old stay behind to spend time with friends and the other set of grandparents.
After driving for over an hour eastward, Mindus arrives near Lac la Hache and 108 Mile Ranch, where she sees thick sheets of smoke. “That’s when I realized it was a dangerous situation,” Mindus said.
After two more hours of driving, Mindus’s phone pings with notifications of photos and text messages about the growing fire. Several hours later, she receives a text message that says, “Oh my God, a lightning storm just went through Williams Lake.”
Friday, July 7, 2017
Mindus reaches her parent’s place and learns that the fire at 100 Mile House has destroyed four homes and that the airport near Williams Lake has been evacuated.
Mindus keeps in close touch with her editorial team in Williams Lake, exchanging information and vetting stories until 1 a.m., as well as talking with Ashley Wadhwani, a reporter for Black Press Community News Media based in Vancouver. Black Press owns the Williams Lake Tribune in addition to 75 other publications. Collaborating with Wadhwani is part of a Black Media initiative that encourages member outlets to share resources when needed.
Saturday, July 8, 2017
Mindus starts heading back to Williams Lake to see for herself what was happening and to check in with the couple’s twelve–year–old since her husband had been called in for emergency work. She stops for the night in Quesnel, B.C.–about 120 kilometres north of Williams Lake– to continue filing stories using the information people sent to her via texts, emails and phone calls.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Mindus arrives in Williams Lake. “It was like a war zone,” she said, adding that there were police officers everywhere who were blocking the road and securing the neighbourhood from looters. In total it takes her 26 hours to get back from Jasper because of the fires that caused traffic slowdowns and detours.
July 10, 2017 – July 14, 2017
Mindus works everyday, sometimes for up to 15 hours. Her husband also works long hours, bringing power back to many B.C. communities affected by the wildfires. Their son is always left with someone Mindus trusts.
July 15, 2017
Mindus stands with the mayor and watches the fires that began at 100 Mile House jump across the river. “We knew we had to call the evacuation,” she says.
Mindus later travels south, joining miles of traffic. “That night, I could see a huge plume of smoke and I thought, ‘There’s [only] a 50 per cent chance that my house will be there when I get back.’”
End of July – Present
The evacuation order in Williams Lake is lifted, and people slowly return home. It isn’t a happy homecoming. “We had fires burning until September,” Mindus says. “People didn’t believe the government that it was safe to come back.” Since many people did not return home immediately, businesses struggle to open.
Mindus continues to work well with reporters from Black Press Media, and has developed close professional relationships because of her wildfire coverage. “Ashley and I went from not knowing each other at all to best buddies,” Mindus said. This form of collaboration was completely new to the Williams Lake Tribune. “Black Press only equipped us with this new system in April. It was trial by fire, literally.”