by Patrick Johnston
Special to the Langley Advance
While formerly evacuated residents were being allowed back to Cache Creek on Tuesday, residents of Loon Lake – just to the north – were grimly waiting for news of the fate of their community.
Sadly, Langley Township firefighter Shawn Cahill already knew the fate of his cabin.
The Elephant Hill fire, formerly known as the Ashcroft Reserve fire, swept through the Loon Lake area on Friday and Saturday and according to preliminary reports, damage was heavy.
Cahill has a cabin on the south side of the lake and drove up with a friend, who also has a cabin in the area late Thursday when he heard a wildfire was approaching.
The pair worked all day Friday to prepare their places for the approaching fire, then spent the night helping the local volunteer fire department fight the massive blaze.
“It was loud, like a jet engine,” Cahill said Tuesday of the fire that would eventually consume his place.
He had gone down to the western end of the lake to check the state of the fire, but realized the fire was already racing in.
Before he evacuated early Saturday morning, he stopped at the Marigold Resort dock, on the north side across from his cabin, to snap a photo of the blazing-red south shore.
In a Facebook post early Monday morning, the president of the Loon Lake department told owners of properties along the south side of the lake they should prepare for the worst.
Jeff Harrison reported the fire had swept into the area from the southwest, burning structures in the valley below the lake as well as the fire hall. The fire then split at the lake, burning many structures along the south side.
“There is structural loss on the north side of the lake, but it is confined by and large to the first kilometre,” he said. Some other properties farther along on Loon Lake Road, which runs along the north side of the lake, were damaged, but “the vast majority of homes on the road side are intact.”
About 300 people live at or near the lake.
Brent Davidson, whose family owns a property farther along on the north side of the lake, said the wait for news was excruciating.
“It’s just chilling to look at these photos,” he said of the shots of the hillside south of the lake on fire – and of photos being posted by his neighbours of more hopeful times. “That entire side is glowing red.”
The popular recreation spot is also home to many year-round residents – there’s a school bus service to nearby Cache Creek – but everyone was ordered out this weekend as the giant wildfire surged north. The properties on the south shore can be accessed only by boat. Because the fire department can’t access that side of the lake, most properties on the south side are uninsured, he said.
Steven Pecchia’s family has a cabin that’s inside the first kilometre on the north side and they’re expecting the worst. He said he has been visiting the area since he was a kid; his grandparents would spend time there.
Pecchia started a GoFundMe page to raise money to help people who have been affected by the fire.
Meanwhile, at nearby Cache Creek, residents were greeted by firefighters as they began to return home after more than a week away following an evacuation order.
Beginning at 3 p.m. Tuesday, groups of 40 to 50 cars at a time were allowed in to Cache Creek for an orderly return.
Emergency Management B.C.’s Robert Turner said families returning to Cache Creek would be provided with a cleanup kit from the Red Cross. The kit has to be physically collected, he said, so that people can be confirmed as having returned home.
Turner said new data showed there were now 45,806 evacuees provincewide. The vast majority had registered with emergency services.
According to the B.C. Wildfire Service’s Kevin Skrepnek, there were 155 fires burning in the province on Tuesday.
A total of 675 fires have been documented since the beginning of the 2017 season on April 1. Nine new fires started on Monday. Of the 155 fires, 27 were considered “fires of note” by the wildfire service, and 15 of those are threatening communities. firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/risingaction
• Patrick Johnston is a writer for the Vancouver Sun