Claudia Cornwall has been nominated for a 2021 B.C. and Yukon Book Prize for her non-fiction work which melded a personal story with journalistic insight into the province’s memorable wildfire season a few years ago.
British Columbia in Flames: Stories from a Blazing Summer was published last year and examined the terrible fire season of 2017.
That summer, Cornwall and her husband were at their cabin in Sheridan Lake as news of wildfires breaking out all over the province were reported.
“We never actually thought the Elephant Hill fire would end up at our doorstep – but it did,” Cornwall told the North Shore News last year. “We woke up that morning and it was really smoky. It was thick, horrible smelling, awful looking. We started getting messages from our friends saying they thought we were going to be evacuated soon.”
After eventually receiving an evacuation alert, they left Sheridan Lake and drove through the Cariboo region, observing massive smoke stacks coming from nearby 100 Mile House.
“We thought we might not see our place again, and we also didn’t really know how much danger we were in,” said Cornwall. “That was pretty scary.”
Back at home in North Vancouver, the seeds for a new book idea eventually formed later in the year as the fires died down and life returned to normal.
While outlining her personal experience with the 2017 wildfires, Cornwall told the stories from B.C. communities such as Sheridan Lake, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, 16 Mile, Lac La Hache, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Hanceville-Riske Creek and Clinton. She interviewed firefighters and police officers, ranchers and cottagers, First Nations and local governments, evacuees and search and rescue crews for her book.
Published by Harbour Publishing, Cornwall’s book is shortlisted for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Book Prize at the BC and Yukon Book Prizes.
The BC and Yukon Book Prizes are awarded annually in eight categories with the intent to celebrate the best writing and publishing in the region. This year’s winners will be announced in September.