"I kept hoping that the wind would blow in a different direction."
A couple with a beloved custom-made home in the Cathedral Lakes Lodge area watched its demise live through their surveillance camera, as the Crater Creek wildfire burned through the forest and onto their property Wednesday night.
Karen Frank said she and her husband arrived home on Sunday in Port Coquitlam from a trip abroad and checked in on their secondary property, intended for retirement, outside of Keremeos.
They had Ring cameras placed on their home and nearby property.
The pair had seen the fire burning in the area since July, and worried about the possibility of it coming down the hillside into their area.
As activity increased drastically on Tuesday night, Frank was glued to her camera.
On Wednesday, the fire spread onto their property.
“I kept watching the Ring camera footage all day, and I could just see the smoulder and smoke. So at about 5:55 p.m., I think is the time on the camera, I can see the little flames on the hill. So I know what's coming,” she said.
“It was 6:20 p.m. when it hit our house. So it was really fast and the trees were really blowing, the wind is just fierce….I kept hoping that the wind would blow in a different direction and the flames go another way, but they didn't."
“They just blew right in and it just grew super fast and just hit all our stuff.”
Her property, which is on the access road to Cathedral Lakes Lodge, was built not only as their place for semi-retirement but also as an "Ashnola Net Zero Demonstration Project" for other builders, showing the guide for the construction of net-zero homes which are off-grid.
“So not only did we build it for ourselves as a home, but my husband built it to use for educational purposes. And he built it almost like a TV show,” Frank said.
“It's still kind of shocking. We're trying to make light of it or the best of the situation because I can't change it.
We have a trailer parked at the front of our property. And I watched the fire come down the bank and you can see reflections of it on the other side in the black trailer that we use for storage. And then I switched to the other ring cam as soon as the fire hit around there, which was the back of our house.”
Frank said footage from both of her cameras confirmed that the wildfire raged at their property from both sides.
“That's the last video. It cuts after because it's on the side of my house and those flames are on the front of the house, but it's already hit the house on the other side where I can't see with the camera,” she added.
“So that's the very last footage before it goes black.”
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen Emergency Operations Centre has been working in partnership with BC Wildfire Service on issuing alerts, orders and information on the fire.
At this time, Mark Woods, EOC Director, said it’s hard for them to confirm any loss of structure because of they have a very defined process, which is through what's called a rapid damage assessment team.
“We have people that are trained to go into these types of areas and they do that under the guidance and support of either BC wildfire or the RCMP, ” he said.
“When we put a state of local emergency in place, and order people out of an area that includes us as well. So that that area is fully under the care and control of the BC Wildfire and they do not want anyone in there.”
Members of the team will have to wait for approval from BCWS to enter the area, to check on whether rumours of structures being lost can be confirmed or not.
“We wouldn't go in and validate that information until it's 100 per cent safe for the people that are doing so.”
The reason the RDOS will not put out structure loss information before that confirmation process is done is to ensure that no one is being told their home is lost or not, without the team having eyes on it.
“We absolutely understand and respect that information gets out, it becomes somewhat obvious. You can see things from a distance. You can get video and photographs from a distance but we follow a process to ensure absolute safety for the people that are involved,” Woods added.
“In this case where there's a person who knows already and they’re sharing that, well they know already. We just are not in a position to confirm at this point. We ask those questions every opportunity we have with the structure fire branches and BC Wildfire.”
Frank said her husband headed out to Hedley to try to see if there was access to the home when the fire grew but decided not to go further when the Ring camera went black.
The wildfire was up to an estimated 14,000 hectares in size on Thursday and is classified as an extremely volatile fire.
The evacuation orders stand in place as crews work to contain the out-of-control fire and residents are urged to keep away from the area and roads closed to public access.
For more information on existing evacuation orders and alerts in the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, as well as tips to be prepared for emergencies and how to Fire Smart properties, click here.