Tegan Heard photo                                Residents took on the flames.

Tegan Heard photo Residents took on the flames.

Forest fire like a raging river

Tense moments for Maple Ridge mom

During the height of the Williams Lake wildfires last week, Susan Heard had been in constant contact with her daughter Tegan Heard, a Maple Ridge native, now living west just of Williams Lake.

They’d talk three times a day, either by phone or Facebook, just to make sure everthing was OK, until late last week.

“Then we heard nothing,” said Susan.

Phone lines had been cut by the fire and there was no way to see if her daughter and her husband were safe.

Fortunately, there was a nearby school that had Internet and messages got out, saying that the couple was OK after fires ripped through the area.

The wildfire that tore around Tegan’s house sounded like a torrential, raging, rushing river.

It got started July 8 and reached less than a kilometre from her home in Riske Creek, 60 kilometres west of Williams Lake.

“When you can hear the fire rolling down the valley at your neighbours’ houses, it is scary. You could hear the fire coming and could see the smoke rolling straight at you. That was scary,” Tegan said by e-mail Thursday.

At one point, the fire was just on the other side of the highway and if it had crossed the road, her house would have been gone. “My husband and other community members prevented that from happening.”

Tegan was born and raised in Maple Ridge but has been up in Interior the last seven years working in Williams Lake.

When the evacuation order for Williams Lake came on July 15, the city emptied but about 90 people in the Riske Creek area, stayed and worked behind the fire lines to save their homes. Loggers and ranchers used their bulldozers, skidders ( a logging vehicle) and excavators to make fire breaks. They ran hoses to pump water, dug by hand and cut trees in a frantic effort to stop the fires. A local resident even jumped into his logging helicopter to direct crews below.

Tegan and her husband have an acreage with three horses, a dozen chickens, two dogs and a cat. While they fought the wildfire, they had also hatched an escape plan, with vehicles at the ready, if it got too dangerous.

“Thankfully, many people appreciate what we are doing to save our community. EB Horseman raises $6,000 for our community and delivered supplies to us today,” she said.

With the couple still behind evacuation lines, getting supplies at first wasn’t easy. All of the donations for essentials are distributed at evacuation centres in urban areas. However, now they have permission to go into town for supplies.

“Those guys have grit and determination,” said Susan. “They stayed and fought it because if they hadn’t, they would have lost it all.

“It’s been quite an experience for them. I have to say, we’re incredibly proud of them. They stuck to their guns. They had an escape plan if they had to get out. They weren’t being foolish or risk taking, other than the obvious risks.”

Susan said it was heartening one day to hear of a truckload of supplies roll in to Williams Lake from Ft. McMurray, Alta., which was hit by a wildfire last year.

While the fire has calmed down, residents still have their guards up. “This is in no way a done deal,” said Susan.

According to BC Wildfire Service last week, the Hanceville-Riske Creek fire erupted July 8 and there were 145 firefighters on the blaze, supported by 14 helicopters.

Heard said her house and property is already fire resistant. The couple have removed thick brush from near the house and the grass is kept short. But they may remove a few more trees and set up an outdoor sprinkler system for the house and shop.

 

Tegan Heard photo                                After the fire tore through the forest.

Tegan Heard photo After the fire tore through the forest.

Forest fire like a raging river