A well-known Naramata family is counting their blessings and at the same time trying to come to terms with a devastating fire that destroyed their business Sunday morning.
Grandbois family members hugged each other and watched in shock and tears as the huge 15-20 metre flames, fanned by savage north winds ripped through the estimated 7,000-square-foot Plexus Woodworks shop on Gulch Road.
Fortunately, even though they were initially hampered by the gusts and a limited water supply, Naramata Volunteer Fire Department Crews prevented the fire from reaching the Grandbois’ nearby home.
“It was just a beautiful Sunday morning and I was working in the orchard up there and saw the smoke,” recalled Rick Grandbois, whose wife Harriet and four of their five children were in the home at the time. “At first I just thought it was dust because the wind was blowing and I thought, well it looks like it might be more than dust so I ran over the edge and I noticed that it was the building and ran down here and my family was out.”
Unfortunately the phone service was through the office in the workshop and was already destroyed so they could not call 911. Because of where the house is located there is no cell service.
Since the incident the family has been overwhelmed by the response from other people.
“Well we’ve just had so much community support,” he said. “It’s really helped to know there are so many people that are sending their condolences, food is coming in all the time and it we just want them to know how much this means to us.”
Flames also came dangerously close to jumping to a property and residence just up the hill to the east.
“All we know right now is that it started in the office area in the back-left corner of the building and from there with the 40 (kilometre) winds, it was crazy,” said Naramata Fire Chief Tony Travao, who described the scenario as the “perfect storm.” “It didn’t help that the nearest hydrant was a kilometre and a half away and with the way the winds were swirling and the flames that high I didn’t want to put any money on where it was going for the first half hour or so.”
Even though at one stage they ran completely out of water and could only watch, crews somehow managed to hold the fire at bay until backup fire teams arrived from Penticton, Summerland and Kaleden.
“Our mutual aid we have set up around the valley is just awesome and they showed up within about 45 minutes,” said Travao. “Before they got there we just hunkered down for those 45 and then with their assistance we had lots of water and just kept shuttling back and forth.”
The family did not have insurance on the business which was known for its high quality wood products, including doors, flooring and tables it had produced for the past 20 years. According to Rick it is still too early to make a decision about rebuilding.
“Fortunately, or unfortunately, it was the best we could do,” said Travao about the loss of the building while managing to save the home. “I really feel for the owners. I woke up this morning (Monday) and I was thinking geez I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now, just looking at everything they put their lives to and it’s gone.
“I had a good talk with Rick (owner) last night (Sunday), but I think it’s going to hit him today. I know the family which makes it really tough because they’re the salt-of-the-earth type of people, just a really nice family.”
He added unlike the larger cities, in the smaller tight-knit communities like Naramata most people know each other.
“We’re all neighbours so we all look after each other,” said the chief.
He also praised the efforts of his men who rarely find themselves in a position of having to fight a fire of this magnitude.
“There were no injuries, we all took in a lot of smoke and one of our guys was in pretty close and he just needed a little bit of O2 (oxygen) and rest and he was back at it,” said Travao. “I’m very comfortable with the team I have now, they’re all very well qualified and they know what needs to get done.”
Mutual aid teams had left the scene by about 1 p.m. that day and Naramata crews remained to mop up the hot spots.
Along with the fire department, RCMP, BC Ambulance Service and the BC Forest Service wildfire personnel were also on scene. The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined. Friends of the Grandbois’ have started a Gofundme account to help the family which can be found athttp://dm2.gofund.me/vdzysw.