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House Safety

Rural house outside Quesnel burns to the ground

A local family is trying to get their lives back on track after a house fire burned their home on Matthews Road to the ground last week.

The Ten Mile Volunteer Fire Department (TMVFD) was the lead response unit and they called upon the Barlow Creek VFD for mutual assistance to fight the blaze. Seth Shelley, head of the TMVFD, said the fire was already big when they arrived on the scene with their tender (water tanker) truck and engine, along with eight firefighters. The BCVFD also issued their tender, for more water supply, plus three staff.

The house was home to Lindsay Orenchuk, her partner Shawn, and their two sons, ages 16 and 19. The boys were at home when the fire broke out, while the parents were doing a long-distance errand in Nazko, but were on their way home.

“Our sons were eating and they saw an orange glow on the snow outside the window,” Orenchuk said. “When they realized there was a fire, our eldest son went up on the roof and tried to put out the fire. He fell off the roof. Our youngest son took the puppies and dogs out and into my partner’s work truck.”

Orenchuk said, “it was clear the house wasn’t going to be saved by the time Shawn and I arrived.”

They got to work moving the valuables from around the house. Some items were saved, but a recreational vehicle and a few trailers could not be saved from the melting glow. Their efforts were as intense as the heat, and firefighters and police had to intervene with the frenetic family.

“They were actually interfering with the firefighters doing their jobs,” said Quesnel RCMP Staff Sgt. Richard Weseen. “We allowed them to take a feller-buncher away from the house, but when it got to the point where it was a security issue,” the police had to stop them. It was a case of heightened emotions, which was understandable, but feeling had to be balanced with security, Weseen said.

“When people are in such an extremely stressful situation, they can panic. But they need to realize that if we lose one of them retrieving property, or if we have to send firefighters to rescue them, things will go from bad to worse if someone gets hurt in the process.”

Shelley even confirmed upon the arrival of firefighters that the house could not be saved and that a wall was correctly assessed as a risk of falling out at some point.

“It’s underestimated, I think, how fast a house goes up,” explains Shelley. “Staff safety is always paramount – getting on site and getting to the scene – and when you get there and it’s already a fully engaged structure (how do you remove any of the fire factors) from heat, oxygen or fuel? The amount of water it takes to knock out one of these is unbelievable. Fire is an insanely destructive force and it’s amazing how fast it is.”

It was a night of freezing rain so the highways were extremely slippery, the driveway to the house was barely passable for TMVFD and impossible for the BCVFD’s tender truck, so water supply, arrival time and access were all dynamic factors.

“I don’t say this lightly: Aside from the homeowners and their loved ones, no one feels worse about losing a home than the firefighters who were there,” Shelley said.

Now the work of economic recovery and setting up a new home is underway for Orenchuk and family. Access to emergency services was problematic, she said, because there is 72 hours to call for help and the fire happened on a Saturday. By the time opening hours opened on Monday, the victim’s family had a lot to do and little time to do it, in order to qualify for provincial assistance. Complicating matters was that there was no clear channel of information, she said. Nobody led them.

The two organizations that have been heroic, she said, are the ad hoc fire effect group The Postmen (founded first in Alberta by those involved in the Fort McMurray fire emergency, and expanded to the Cariboo because of the Central Interior wildfires of recent years , led locally by Dave Llewellyn) and the Red Cross.

“And the community is great and we appreciate everything everyone has reached out to help us,” Orenchuk said.

A Go-Fund-Me page has been set up to collect donations. That link will be available on the Quesnel Cariboo Observer online platforms, or under the name Brooklyn Chipman (Shawn’s daughter) on the GoFundMe website.

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