One person was left homeless after a grass fire quickly grew out of control destroying a residence, several outbuildings and heavy equipment just west of Keremeos Saturday morning.
Marty Marchand Ring had passed by the site of the fire early morning Saturday to pick up her grandchildren a few miles away. She was heading back that way just before 8:30 a.m. and saw the flames.
“There were people pulled over on the side of the road looking in and I thought, ‘Oh my God, has anyone went to see if Harold got out OK?,” she said.
She quickly drove up to Harold Bullington’s trailer to make sure he was out of the building.
Marchand Ring described Bullington as in his 50s and “quite frail.” He suffers from diabetes and other medical conditions.
“Thankfully his door was open. I got in and the dog was barking but seemed good tempered so I kept going and found Harold asleep. I woke him up. It must have been a horrible freight for him,” she said.
The pair quickly went outside and tried to put the fire out. Another man from the roadway had walked down and was trying to keep the fire away from the trailer.
Marchand Ring said she threw the dog’s water bowl on the fire and then hooked up a garden hose.
“I had thought we might have stopped it from at least getting his house,” she said. “But an ember was burning away under the trailer. I feel so bad for him. He’s lost everything.”
Marchand Ring had to abandon her attempts at putting out the fire as her grandchildren aged five and seven came running to tell her the grass fire flames were quickly approaching her vehicle.
She then went to her aunt’s house nearby and helped wet down the grass around her home in hopes the fire wouldn’t take her house as well.
A small fire crew made up of volunteer firefighters from Keremeos, Hedley and Kaleden arrived on scene near Standing Rock on Lower Similkameen Indian Band land.
The crews worked for more than 12 hours along with a crew from BC Wildfires to put out the blaze.
“It was worse than what it looked like from the road,” Jordy Bosscha, Keremeos fire chief said.
Bosscha said the call came in for a grass fire out of control about 8:30 a.m. Before the crew could get in the truck it was being called a structure fire.
Firefighters endured many challenges during the 12-hour call out.
Crews were shorthanded as many volunteer fire fighters had to work or were out of town on vacation. The group was unable to spare firefighters from fighting the blaze to investigate ways to get water out of the river.
A pumper truck and a truck from Dutchies were used to haul water to the fire zone.
“We didn’t have enough members to get to the river to fit in a pump and pump water that way. We just couldn’t spare the people plus it was fairly overgrown,” he said.
A large propane tank situated between two of the burning structures was a cause of concern during the fire. Firefighters worked to keep the tank cool so it wouldn’t explode.
The highway was closed to traffic in both directions from shortly after the fire broke out until about 2:30 p.m.
Bosscha said some drivers understood while others upset and frustrated with the delay of their Saturday plans tried to go through the ditch.
“We were short handed and didn’t have time to argue or spend time making sure they didn’t put themselves in harm’s way,” he said.
RCMP Cpl. Kathleen Thain said the cause of the fire is unknown at this time but it is not being deemed suspicious.
There was no lightening in the area at the time of the fire so it is deemed to be human caused.
Thain said an extension chord was hooked up between the two neighbouring trailers but it is unknown whether that is what caused the fire.
Currently Bullington is being housed at a local motel.
A bank account has been setup for him at Valley First and Marchand Bing plans to help collect donated items from the community.
She is currently looking for volunteers and has secured a storage unit in Keremeos. Anyone looking to donate or volunteer can contact her at 250-499-2607.
A Go Fund Me campaign has also been setup under Bullington’s name by Marty Marchand Bing.