A devastating fire near Penticton has left a family homeless.
Tony and Alicia Pepin and their two young sons are unharmed, but the trailer they had been living in, just past the Highway 3A turnoff, was completely destroyed by the blaze on Thursday. Family member Tracy Last said the Pepins have a place to stay and are still recovering from the shock of losing their home.
“The house was completely destroyed and all their possessions but nobody was home at the time so thank goodness for that. They had two dogs and one cat and they were all outside at the time,” said Last. “They were at work and totally unaware until a friend of theirs drove by and phoned saying the house was on fire.”
Last said a trust has been created for the family at TD bank, which the community can donate to by asking for the trust set up under her name or by using the Pepins name. She also said a local church has also offered some assistance for clothing for the family.
Kaleden volunteer fire department chief Darleen Bailey said the residence was located in an unprotected zone.
“It is an unprotected district so nobody protects it legally and it just burns down. It is a difficult thing for us because it is only 1,000 feet beyond our boundary, but we cannot respond out of our fire protection district,” said Bailey. “Can you imagine a fire truck pulls up and we can’t help out? So we had to stay out of it.”
Bailey said areas such as Twin Lakes have no fire protection either.
“You can get fire insurance, but you have to pay a lot of money for it. What might cost somebody in a protected area $1,000 it’ll cost them $3,000 to $4,000 depending on the property,” said Bailey.
Penticton Indian Band volunteer fire department chief Barry Phillip said the PIB volunteer firefighters got to the fire area around an hour after receiving a call earlier from Kelowna fire dispatch who informed them the fire was near the border of the PIB lands.
Phillip said they pulled up to find a devastating scene where some of the vehicles and sheds around the residence had also caught fire. Although he said they were also not supposed to battle the blaze because it is out of their area, the crew went ahead anyways.
“We weren’t supposed to, but no one else showed up so we kind of did anyways. We couldn’t say no to those people standing there,” said Phillip.
The trailer was already reduced to “rubble” by the time the PIB volunteer fire crew arrived.
“It takes only 10 minutes for a trailer to go, they are tinder-boxes. Once they start they are gone in 10 or 15 minutes and there is nothing left of them,” said Phillip.
“We put out the little fires. There was some older cars in the back that started up and a RV trailer right beside the residence and a couple of sheds that we made sure didn’t go up as well. We managed to save those.”
The B.C. fire information office received calls on the wildfire reporting line from the public of a forest fire and around 4 p.m., and sent out a foot crew, a bird-dog plane to scout the area and an air tanker. The fire moved from the residence up the hill into the forest area quickly and foot crews couldn’t get to the fire because of the steep terrain.
“The air tanker came in and dropped a line of retardant in front of the fire so that stopped it from spreading any further. The crews then could move in to mop it up and we also brought in a helicopter to drop buckets of water on it because it had some hotspots,” said Kevin Skrepnek, fire information officer for the Kamloops Fire Centre.
Despite the rainy weather as of late, fire information officers said the forests are still dry and people should be careful while enjoying the outdoors this long weekend.
“The area this occurred in has a pretty low fire danger rating if you look at the raw statistics. It goes to show that it is still very dry out there and it doesn’t take long, even though we have had a few weeks of rain and cool weather, for it to dry out,” said Skrepnek. “We want to make sure people are still vigilant out there, especially with it being the long weekend and lots of people outdoors. We are encouraging people not to get complacent with fire.”