Emerald Estates fire claims pets, dream home 

Cause of blaze still under investigation

Like many of Whistler’s original residents Frank Papenburg and his wife Olwen Kuiper lived as squatters for many years in order to save enough money to buy property and build their own dream home. They designed the house themselves, and did most of the construction work with their own hands.

A sudden blaze that erupted on the morning of Dec. 31 claimed their dream home in a matter of hours, as well as most of their possessions and three pets. When the Whistler fire department arrived on the scene 12 minutes after they received the call at 5:48 a.m., the fire was "fully involved," according to assistant fire chief Geoff Playfair.

"Flames were coming out at all levels of the house… and because the two residents both made it out, we did not attempt to go inside," Playfair said.

A crew of 26 firefighters and five trucks were used to combat the blaze, which was not ruled as extinguished until 10:30 a.m.

Playfair’s investigation was still incomplete at press time. The only thing they know at this point was that the fire started in the tenant’s suite on the ground level, which was occupied at the time. The tenant made it out safely, and was treated for minor burns to the back of his head and neck.

Papenburg, who drives a taxi, had just finished his shift at around 4:30 a.m., and passed the keys to Kuiper, who began her taxi shift at 5 a.m. He went to bed at around 5 a.m., and was sound asleep until he was awakened by the house fire alarm.

He didn’t have time to grab any of his possessions or locate the family pets before leaving the house.

"I only had time to get out, my doorway was on fire. I basically had to run through the flames," said Papenburg.

Papenburg has lived in Whistler since 1976, and after almost a decade of squatting he, his partner and the tenant built the home at 9552 Emerald Drive in 1996. All residents in the house were fully insured, and Papenburg has already met with the insurance adjuster, receiving emergency funds until a settlement is reached.

"Will we rebuild? We want to stay in Whistler if that’s possible, so we will probably rebuild, maybe a little differently this time. That’s sort of contingent on the insurance company at this point, but if we can afford to stay in Whistler we will," said Papenburg. "This is our home."

Although they lost many possessions in the fire, Papenburg says the loss of the pets was particularly sad.

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