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Wildfires inspire local songwriter

He turned 40 watching his home region burn. Maybe it was turning a page of personal age or maybe it was the intense worry for his neighbours, but something moved him to create art in that moment.
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William Kuklis performs at the Prince George Playhouse as part of Coldsnap in February.

He turned 40 watching his home region burn. Maybe it was turning a page of personal age or maybe it was the intense worry for his neighbours, but something moved him to create art in that moment.

William Kuklis is a Prince George singer-songwriter who has also been part of the Barkerville and Wells community.

These two places are among the few in the Cariboo-Chilcotin area that are not facing imminent threat of forest fire.

Standing Strong was whipped up like an ember in the wind. It speaks of natural forces, it speaks of human resilience, it speaks of fear and fight in tandem. In little more than two days it had attracted more than 700 views on YouTube with no formal promotion behind it. It just spread.

"It came to me in a flurry," he said.

"I was in the grocery store, shopping, and I was thinking 'why is it so busy' and then it dawned on me why. So I got talking to some evacuees and I overheard one say 'now we're praying for rain' and that was it, that was the line I needed to build a song around."

The lyrics came out of the flickering imagery of news footage and the influx of evacuees from the Cariboo-Chilcotin into Prince George. It also came from the personal empathy of living in a forested city where fires have threatened before and inevitably will again.

The playing of the parts was a solitary but swift endeavor. Kuklis is the proprietor of Vinyl Deck Recording Studios, so laying down the mix was as complicated as a scamper downstairs and pushing the Record button.

"The vocals were done in one take. The rest I pieced together over a few drinks and a few takes in the studio," Kuklis said. "Having your own studio makes it easier to generate a song when it strikes you. For the video, I just went looking for some photos to make a little slide show. I think I just Googled 'Cariboo wildfires' and hit 'images' and it all just appeared."

Even when he was finished writing and recording Standing Strong, he didn't nudge it out into the consumer world. It was done in the heat of the moment, so it wasn't his most polished composition.

This was a raw DIY song in every way and in the midst of a sensitive moment. He wasn't sure a song would be welcome in the public consciousness at this time.

Others convinced him otherwise. His wife and some friends were vocal about liking the tune and feeling moved by the message. He made the video elements a call to action for donating to the Red Cross, the agency leading the charitable relief.

"I tried to do it anonymously, but I couldn't figure out how to do that (post it on the internet)," he said. "It's not that I didn't like the song, I just didn't want this to be about me. I'm not making a single penny for this, and I didn't even want any attention for it, I just want to use the song as a pathway to more help for the evacuees. I didn't want people to think this was my latest single or something. I just want it to be something that makes people think about donating or contributing their time or just thinking about what's going on right now for people. If this can help in any way, just give people the phone number to call, then that's the job it's there to do. It's just to shine a light on the firefighters and the volunteers and especially the evacuees."

Kuklis's song is available now on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltfAOyPtk50. Local branches of the Red Cross and Salvation Army are leading the efforts to channel financial aid to evacuees.