A dispute between two departing farmworkers cost Craig and Angie Erikson their Sumac Road home.
Wind-fanned flames destroyed a storage building with second floor accommodations in addition to Erikson’s main residence. A bonfire, set by one of two farmworkers, got out of hand early Saturday morning on the property located in the South Similkameen, about 15 kilometres south of Cawston.
The farmworkers, a female from France and a male from the U.S. who shared accommodations, had earned their final paycheques and were preparing to return to home Saturday.
“John was apparently drinking on Friday night. The two got into a fight and she threw him out,” said Craig Erikson Monday morning. Erikson’s family was taking part in family activities in Penticton Friday evening, returning to their home around 9 p.m.
“He got cold outside, and started a fire,” Erikson continued, pointing to a sparse grove of blackened pine trees near the burned out building.
“He passed out, and when he woke up, the building was on fire.”
Not only was the farmworker’s building burning by then, but so was Erikson’s home, which was directly in line with strong winds.
Erikson credits the worker for warning the family of five, who all managed to escape, including the family pets. The female farmworker also got out of her building safely.
With strong, gusty winds pushing the temperatures to –15 C and lower, there wasn’t anything Erikson could do.
“I spent about a half hour running around before I realized I couldn’t save anything,” he said, noting that $60,000 worth of this summer’s crop of squash, which was located in the lower portion of the workers’ accommodaitons, was destroyed.
The family didn’t have time to save much from the house, which was filled with smoke by the time they were awakened, sometime between midnight and 3 a.m. Erikson said they were able to grab their cell phones and personal identification before fleeing the house.
“Everyone is safe, that’s the main thing,” Erikson said, “I’m really just thankful the kids are all okay, and that we all made it out.”
The Eriksons put in more than 2,500 hours and $30,000 into renovations to their home last fall.
“We had just spent thousands of hours and dollars fixing it up the way we wanted,” he said. The property is located outside of Keremeos and District Volunteer Fire Department’s protection area, so there was no response by the organization. Police did attend the scene Saturday morning.
The family has insurance.
Monday morning, the Erikson’s three pet dogs lounged idly near the driveway, seemingly oblivious to Friday night’s disaster.
“We lost one dog for a day, and the cat disappeared for two days, but they’re back. We were worried that the dog might have gone back into the fire.”
Erikson said the family would hopefully not have to seek accommodation elsewhere, as the property contained two other buildings that could be made habitable. He was busy preparing one of those buildings for his family Monday morning.