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Cracknell, Hitchcock witness devastating Canadian wildfires firsthand

The Stars forward and head coach are among many in the NHL who spend their summers in British Columbia

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

It has been a summer of historic weather devastation that threatens to turn into a fall with more of the same across North America.

From unprecedented flooding in Texas, to the threat of a massive hurricane in Florida, to raging wildfires in the western Canadian province of British Columbia and in Los Angeles, rarely has the continent seen such sustained natural destruction.

Dallas head coach Ken Hitchcock and forward Adam Cracknell were among many National Hockey League officials and players who normally spend their summers in the idyllic environs of mountainous British Columbia, but who saw something much different in recent weeks.

"The interior of British Columbia, it was a season of the effect of forest fires because in the cities like Kamloops and Kelowna and Vernon you had displaced people on a daily basis and it was tough on them," said Hitchcock who returned to Kamloops, British Columbia immediately after the Stars' development camp ended in mid-July.

"In Kamloops the displaced people from Williams Lake and Clinton were living in the arena," said the Dallas coach who coached junior hockey in Kamloops in the mid to late 1980s and who summers there annually.

"It's tough seeing that on a daily basis. It's living in Mother Nature and understanding the impact and effect that has on everything because there's things you're used to when you live in the interior of British Columbia. Every day's Ground Gog Day; perfect weather; and then all of a sudden it changes. And all of a sudden you're dealing with smoke, you're dealing with no precipitation. I never saw a drop of rain in six weeks. It was an eye opener to the effect of what Mother Nature can provide."

According to Canadian news sources, firefighters in British Columbia have had to contend with more than 160 different wildfires this summer, with dozens still burning. Almost 1.15 million hectares of land burned. And while the destruction of property has been relatively modest, the threat of evacuation for many communities remains a daily concern.

"We were stopped twice we were stopped on the highway, the highway between Kamloops and Vernon," Hitchcock said. "Twice we were stopped for fighting forest fires."

The smell of smoke was persistent.

"Oh yeah. You could really smell it in the morning," Hitchcock said. "And I think you couldn't help but listen to the stories and I thought they did a wonderful job in precautionary prevention in the towns like Williams Lake and places like that. I just talked to Adam Cracknell and its still going on there."

Cracknell's family is located in the mountain resort area of Cranbrook, British Columbia, and his summer routine was dramatically altered as the fires burned, having to spend considerable time indoors.

"With the smoke and everything, it's not good for you to be out there," Cracknell said. "We had a lot of warnings that you had to stay inside and kind of limit the activity. Hopefully the town doesn't have to evacuate or anything like that that's my biggest concern with my family being back there right now. So far, it's a little bit under control. But hopefully things can settle down there."

Even simple things like getting out on the water in a canoe or boat were restricted as firefighting aircraft were regularly scooping water from local bodies of water to fight the fires.

"They're trying to keep people out of harm's way or from starting more fires," Cracknell explained.

"We have a view of the mountains and I didn't see the mountains that often this summer," added the 32-year-old who made the 30-hour drive from Dallas to Cranbrook at the end of last season.

"You start getting ash on your car and stuff like that throughout the summer. We don't have air conditioning because it usually doesn't get too hot, it's not Dallas hot, so you have to open the windows and you could definitely smell it on all your clothes. You just kind of become immune to it."

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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