When our youngest daughter and I left for our annual trek to the island there was a small forest fire several kilometers away. Nothing to worry about. A few days later I received a call from my husband to let me know that the fire had increased substantially and had jumped to the adjacent mountain and was heading towards our property. The next day I tried several times to reach my husband at the house. The phone rang busy each time. Then I contacted my brother-in-law’s girlfriend to find out what she knew. That was when I heard that our house had burned down and that our family had fled to Vernon. I left for Vernon the next morning.
What happened during that eventful day was described to me by my boys and husband. My husband was at work when he looked up and saw a smoke cloud coming down the mountain and heading towards our property. He jumped in his truck and headed back home which was 15 km away. He was told he had 10 minutes to evacuate when he arrived at our place. He and our two sons loaded his mom, who lived in a trailer on our property, the animals and a few items from both our homes and raced against the fire. Our oldest son noticed that someone was trying to load cattle and was having a hard time so he pulled over to help him. He nearly succumbed to the smoke, but luckily was pulled to his vehicle where he made his escape as did the man and his cattle.
My husband indicated that there were charred items flying through the air, high winds generated by the fire, smoky but still some visibility and fireballs flying through the air and you could hear “whoosh” through the air. One of the fireballs hit our house and in the matter of 20 minutes, our house exploded from the intense heat. We lost one of our cats in the fire, but our other cat survived. He hid under grandma’s trailer and because the area around her place had been watered the day before, her trailer was saved. Our house, workshop/garage and greenhouse were gone, but left standing were some of our fruit trees and the trailer and one scared little kitty. Amazing.
When it was safe, we headed back to our property and on grandma’s porch were boxes of clothing, food and various items. These items came from people who didn’t even know us, but wanted to help in their own way. What had survived the fire. . . a deep freezer and an old-fashioned spring bed which had fallen two stories into the basement. Not useable, but still in one piece.
On clean-up day, when trucks and bulldozers came to clean up the debris and remove what was left of our foundation, the Salvation Army arrived with food and drinks for all of us. The funny of the day was when they asked if they could knock down one of our prune trees as it was in the way of the cleanup. My mother-in-law gave them the okay then as she was picking the fruit off the tree, she said that it was the easiest picking she had ever had.
We found pots and pans and parts of furnishings from the house in the river. They had flown some 40 feet so yes they were permanently damaged. In September, we began rebuilding.
What do I miss the most. . . our photos. All our family albums are gone, but our families sent us any pictures I had sent them over the years and for Christmas 1998, I scanned every one of those photographs and made a family album for each of the kids to take with them someday.
One of the items that my husband saved was a trunk from the 1800’s where I kept the kids’ baby books and special mementos when they were little. They now have these in their own homes.
Best of all, our son survived the fire and really what is most important is our family. We can do anything if we have each other.
Yes, we are still surrounded by mountains, but the beauty seems to outweigh the potential danger. My husband promised me adventure when we got married and he has kept his word…. Oh by the way, remember that cat that hid under grandma’s trailer and made it through the fire? Well, he is still with us – he is a survivor.
Photo credit in order of appearance:
1. Michelle Hansen, c. 2014
2. James Murray, Salmon Arm Observer, c. 1998