Laying smashed at the bottom of mountainsides all around Zeballos, are the trees that once towered over this North Island village.

Some still smouldering from the wildfires that roared through here for three weeks, they now lay in splintered piles from the rock slides that are now putting this community on a new alert and round of evacuations.

“They said you got till 8 o’clock in the morning to remove what you can,” recalled evacuee Cristina Lepore.

Lepore’s hotel and home, Cedar’s Inn, was one of 10 new properties put under the evacuation order Saturday due to the threat of falling debris, so she and her husband have taken refuge in a suite inside the Zeballos store they own across town.

They are unsure they’ll ever return home.

“You don’t know if you can go back,” said Lepore. “And if it’s going to be the same when you go back anyway. Because will the hillside ever stabilize without the trees,” she said.

“We’re not sure at this point it’s anybody’s guess,” said Acting Mayor Julie Colborne.

“[The B.C. Wildfire Service] need more data,” she said. “They need to collect more data and figure out what is going to happen to the slope.”

Evacuee Dan O’Connor fears this could be catastrophic for Zeballos.

“They didn’t understand what that burn could do to this village,” said O’Connor.

“Now they’ve got probably a third of their tax base disappearing on them if they all get condemned,” said O’Connor. “Economically this village won’t be able to survive it. It’s already on a hair string here.

Rains are forecast to keep falling until Tuesday, likely bringing more debris down with them. That’s when officials are expected to take a closer look at the fire-ravaged slope above Zeballos and give residents a clearer picture of their new reality.

Skye Ryan