It's been a tough year for music festivals in Canada—and that was evident well before an uncontained wildfire nearly forced participants of the Shambhala Music Festival to evacuate ahead of the final day's shows. If not for a last minute flip-flop, thousands of paying festivalgoers would have been sent home a day early.
Forming in the Regional District of Central Kootenay near McCormick Creek, the blaze had crossed the Salmo River and was threatening to move into the festival location of Salmo, BC after advancing within 9 km of it on Saturday afternoon. Though it was no certainty that the fire would directly reach Shamabhala, the festival's organizers made an initial decision after collaborations with the local government to call for an evacuation.
"I obviously have mixed emotions about what's going on," said Festival founder Jim Bundschuh. "You're always trying to balance your decisions to make sure you're making the right decisions to protect people."
Then, however, the organizers reversed course. As many attendees had either packed up and left or were in the process of doing so, word got out that the afternoon and evening shows would continue as planned. The main reason for the sudden logistical change was that the cool, damp weather conditions had downgraded the threat of the fire moving into festival territory.
The McCormick Creek fire was just one of 140 that burned across the province of British Columbia this weekend. Close to 3,900 people were working to control the flames while more than 6,400 were displaced from their homes.
RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Annie Linteau underscored the importance of actually leaving an area that has been ordered to evacuate.
"By choosing to remain in an evacuated area, you're putting yourself at risk and increasing the danger to first-responders in the area and making the job of first-responders more difficult."
Over the course of this spring and summer, wildfires have charred more than 6,510 square kilometres of provincial land in BC. Beyond the clear land-based implications of such devastating blazes, the province has also been affected by smoke that has drifted from fire sites all the way over to the West Coast. Several regional districts have issued air quality alerts this summer, with Metro Vancouver just lifting a two-week one caused by previous fires this Saturday.