Whistler locals lose family cabin to wildfire in B.C. Interior 

'Nobody expected it,' says local business owner of the fire that destroyed 30 homes

click to enlarge PHOTO BY TANYA GOERTZEN - JUST A SPARK The wildfire that grew to more than 1,000 hectares overnight and destroyed 30 homes.
  • Photo by Tanya Goertzen
  • JUST A SPARK The wildfire that grew to more than 1,000 hectares overnight and destroyed 30 homes.

When Tanya Goertzen and family left their vacation home in Westbridge on August 13 because of a forest fire in the area, they didn't expect it would be the last time they saw the house.

"We had no real idea that (the fire) was going to do what it did," said Goertzen, co-owner of Whistler's Upper Village Market.

"I left my sister's birthday presents on the table, and we kind of set everything up and finished making the beds in case they got back to the cabin before we got back."

But as Goertzen tracked the fire's growth online that night from nearby Kelowna — 100 hectares, 500 hectares, 1,300 hectares — she knew the house was lost.

"By that night, logically, I knew it had gone past my house," she said.

Goertzen's home was one of 30 lost to the Rock Creek fire.

"It had been in the family for a number of years, and when (my father) passed away he left it to myself and my sisters," Goertzen said.

"It was like a sort of treasure trove of things from my dad, and all the things that he had always had from his whole life. We left it there because it was like a little tribute."

The sentimental belongings can't be replaced, Goertzen knows, but she's also keenly aware of how lucky she and the family are — many of the homes lost in the fire are primary homes.

"It's our secondary home and it's a lot of family memories, but the people on our street... this is their livelihood. This is their home. Everything they have is there."

As of Aug. 19, the Rock Creek fire had grown to over 4,000 hectares and was 25-per-cent contained.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but it's suspected to be human caused.

Speaking to reporters on Aug. 17, provincial minister of forests Steve Thomson said there is rumour of a video that shows someone tossing a lit cigarette from a car in the area.

"We have no confirmation of that at this time, but the investigation is ongoing, and I would encourage anyone who has video to share (with the ministry)," Thomson said.

The minister also talked about an Aug. 16 incident in which a drone flying near other wildfires in the area forced firefighters out of the air.

"It is really something that is just not acceptable as we have these assets in the air supporting and protecting our communities," Thomson said.

"The rules are clear, simple to understand, and there's just really no excuse for this willful disregarding of the regulations... we're going to be looking at what can be done additionally from a legislative perspective."

In the Coastal Fire Centre, there were five fires of note as of Aug. 18.

The Boulder Creek fire — about 21 kilometres northwest of Pemberton Meadows — was 6,735 hectares and 75-per-cent contained, while the Elaho fire — about 67 kilometres west of Pemberton — was 12,523 hectares and 65-per-cent contained.

As of Aug. 17, there had been 1,649 wildfires so far this year, burning an estimated total of 292,000 hectares across the province.

The total cost of wildfire suppression so far this year in B.C. is estimated at $207 million.

The 10-year average from 2005 to 2014 is 1,334 wildfires burning an estimated 86,000 hectares.

"We certainly are above our average in terms of the number of fires we've had, and far above our 10-year average in terms of the number of hectares burned," said Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information office for the BC Wildfire Service.

For complete up-to-date information visit www.bcwildfire.ca.

While no homes have been lost to wildfire in the Whistler area this year, the Rock Creek fire is a prime example of how fast one spark can change everything.

"Nobody expected it. It was a gorgeous, sunny, regular day for all these people, and nobody expected to lose their homes and lose their everything," Goertzen said.

"You're trying to be so courageous and altruistic, and 'It's OK because we're alright,' but at the same time, you're like, 'Damn. My house."

The Canadian Red Cross is accepting donations to help support those affected by wildfires in the province. Visit www.redcross.ca/bcwildfires2015 for more information.


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