Tell your friends you came upon a sizeable mob of people gathered in the middle of smoke and flames, and they’re likely to think you’re describing a riot.
But a very different thing took place early Friday evening along Highway 19, when a grass fire broke out in the dry, yellowed brush of the roadway’s median near the Horne Lake Road exit north of Qualicum Beach.
Somebody saw the smoke rising from the roadside and, instead of continuing past, pulled over and jumped out to investigate. We don’t know who this first driver was, but in short order the highway was lined with parked cars, their occupants spilling out with water bottles, larger refillable jugs, coolers and anything else at hand that could be used to pour onto the low flames licking through the tinder-dry grass.
We’re willing to bet that among the two dozen or more ad hoc firefighters were people of opposing political persuasions, and those who would find little in common had they met in other circumstances. Or those who, cocooned in their private steel-and-glass conveyance, would normally have a laser-like focus on their destination and the quickest way around the impediment of other drivers.
Instead, the common enemy of brush fire, combined with weeks of conditioning by news of fires raging through Interior B.C., resulted in one of those rarely witnessed but happy examples of what psychologists have variously described as herd mentality, mob mentality or hive mind.
It’s not clear whether it took only that first motorist, or two of them, or perhaps three. But along the way, a tipping point was reached and volunteers flooded toward the scene with their unlikely fire extinguishers — sometimes merely a personal water bottle that may not have even been full.
The odd critic may argue that these motorists were endangering themselves and others by stopping alongside a 120-km/h speedway, in many cases running across two lanes of blacktop to reach the charred patch of ground. Call the professionals and get out of the way, for heaven’s sake.
The 911 calls weren’t forgotten. In very short order, a tanker truck from the Bow Horn Bay Volunteer Fire Department rolled up. By that time, the civilians had pretty much knocked down the flames, limiting the burn to an area in which you could hardly get up a decent game of pickleball.
And the motorists who continued through the fire zone were as good as their water-pouring counterparts. A cloud of smoke and dozens of massed brake lights proved enough to slow oncoming traffic, and two Black Press reporters who happened on the scene witnessed only co-operation and goodwill. Horns were honked not in aggravation, but tooted as an “attaboy” to the impromptu firefighters.
It’s a sentiment we share.
— Parksville Qualicum Beach News