Bonaparte Valley residents remember Elephant Hill Wildfire one year later

By Adam Donnelly
July 9, 2018 - 1:32pm Updated: July 9, 2018 - 5:26pm

CACHE CREEK, BC — July 6th marked the one year anniversary of the start of the Ashcroft Reserve Fire, a fire that on July 7th would take off through the hills to the west of Cache Creek, cutting off power to the region and causing the evacuations of thousands of residents in the TNRD and CRD.

The fire eventually grew to over 190,000 hectares; it was finally 100% contained on September 29th, 2017, nearly three months after it first started, but for many of those residents who lived through the 2017 fire season, the trauma still remains.

The Cache Creek Fire Hall was quiet on Saturday, a far cry from one year ago, when the Elephant Hill Wildfire took off through the hills west of town.

“You could see a plume of smoke and you wondered what the heck was going on,” Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta recounted Saturday morning, one year after the community was evacuated due to the rapid spread of the fire.

Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta says it only took 20 minutes from the fire appearing on the horizon for it to spread the length of his community, thanks to the tinder dry conditions and high winds in the area.

“The fire just took off and headed up to the Bonaparte reserve and eventually consumed summer homes up at Loon Lake, and Pressy Lake, it threatened Green Lake,” Ranta explained. “[It] even was heading over toward Skeetchestn reserve. We were beginning to talk about what are we going to do if we have to evacuate Westside in Kamloops.”

Look Lake was one of the communities devastated by the fire and few families were hit as hard as the Ebert’s, who own the Evergreen Fishing Resort on the west end of the lake. 10 structures at the resort were consumed by the fire, including the historic lodge, where long-time resort owner Ken Ebert was married nearly 60 years ago.

“It’s a tragedy that we’ll never really get over,” Ebert told CFJC Today.

The Ebert’s were evacuated for 37 days. For much of that time the family didn’t have any information on their homes or the business that’s been part of their family for more than 65 years.

“For about the first two weeks, we had no information whatsoever,” Ebert said. “They used a drone… and said ‘well if you don’t see your house, it didn’t burn.’ That’s when we got to see the horrible thing that happened at the resort.”

The family has considered rebuilding, but in the 77 years since the original lodge was completed, building regulations have changed, which has made it difficult to for the Ebert’s to acquire the necessary permits to start the work. The TNRD is requiring a study into the potential for flooding on the Ebert’s property - which is an expensive proposition.

“First we’ve got to write [the consulting company] a cheque for $8,000,” Ebert explained. “Then after that it’s $160 bucks an hour for each of these guys to come out and… kick rocks around. We hope and pray that when we spend all that money, they’re going to say ‘we’ll allow you to get building permits’.”

While the flames of the Elephant Hill Wildfire have been extinguished, there’s still tremendous work to be done to repair the scars on the land and in the hearts and minds of the residents who lived through the worst fire season in BC’s history.

When John Ranta thinks back on the summer of 2017, the thing that stands out to him was people’s willingness to help those who were driven from their homes.

“The willingness of the volunteers to serve their fellow citizens is what’s remarkable to me,” Ranta said.

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