A Whistler couple was rescued from the scene of their burning squat after a young man heard their cries for help on his walk home along the train tracks near Function Junction.
Around 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 1 Michael Novotny was heading home after hanging out at his friends house in Tamarisk when he saw flames licking the tops of trees on the west side of the tracks.
With a sinking feeling he realized the fire was coming from the two-storey squat nestled about 400 metres above in the trees. He knew a local couple lived in that squat.
"It was scary just seeing the fire and knowing that he and his wife were up there," said Novotny, still in disbelief the day after the fire.
He called 911 immediately from his cell phone and then heard cries from a man to run and get help.
Novotny had one thought.
"Just to get help and get back there as soon as I can," he recalled.
He ran about one kilometre down the tracks where he met two fireman and ambulance personnel and led them back to the scene.
There they discovered the couple in the forest close to the tracks huddled under a blanket with a dog tucked in between. Neither were wearing shoes or a lot of clothing,
The man was calling for help but the woman wasnt speaking at all. Above them the squat was still on fire and there were explosions echoing in the night.
They were carried down to the tracks and lifted on stretchers out to waiting ambulances in Function Junction.
"From the best knowledge that I have, the woman had cuts from escaping out the window and a bit of hypothermia and frost bite and the gentleman definitely had some burns," said Fire Chief Bruce Hall.
"They were lucky to get out alive is what it boils down to."
Heading back to the scene the day after the rescue, Novotny shook his head remembering the events of the previous night.
Small patches of blood stained the white snow where the couple was lying waiting for someone to come to their rescue.
Directly above, up a steep hill, the remains of the squat were still smoking. Not much was left of the small building except the steps leading up to the entrance and portions of the outer wall.
The firemen could not douse the flames at the squat because it is in such an isolated area.
"Theres no way that we could have accessed the building at all and basically it was destroyed before our guys even got there," said Hall.
The squat has been tucked in those trees for a number of years with a number of different people living there. Some say it is known as "the palace."
Hall could not even guess what caused the blaze.
"We havent gone back to have a look at the scene and even if we did, to be quite honest with you, I doubt that we would be able to establish what caused it."
But he is sure of one thing. The events of that night could have been a lot worse had it not been for the actions of Novotny, a 26-year-old who works and lives in Function Junction.
"The fortunate part is this gentleman seeing the fire and finding them. If he hadnt done that who knows what would have happened to them because they were in such an isolated area," Hall said.
"Certainly without his caring and seeing what was going on the situation could have been much grimmer than what it already was."
Novotny doesnt think he was a hero.
"It was just good that I was walking by and in the right place at the right time," he said.
The man sustained second and third degree burns to his back and the back of his arms, as well as burns to his right hand. He is still at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. The woman has since been released.
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