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Neighbours pull together as fire threatens homes
When residents of Kilpoola Estates were alerted to an approaching wildfire last week, it was a case of déjà vu for many.
A similar fire – also human caused – threatened their homes in 2010 on the August long weekend.
The recent fire, which started shortly before 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 19, spread over about 15 hectares before it was brought under control. Officials from the province’s Wildfire Management Branch are still investigating the blaze, but it is believed to be human caused.
Late last week, ground crews were still busy extinguishing hot spots on the charred hillside. The blackened ground shows how close the blaze came to several homes in the area.
It might be overstating it to suggest some local residents were nonchalant about the fire, but residents interviewed following the blaze say they were not panicking.
“I wasn’t wringing my hands that the house was going to burn down,” said Susan Jorden, who lives with her husband artist Michael Jorden in a house that commands a view of nearby Spotted Lake.
“If I was wringing my hands at all it was more about what we should be doing to make the outcome the best it could be.”
Like many residents in the area, their house is constructed without any flammable materials on the sides, she said. And as with other houses in the area, there are no trees or tall brush around their home that could catch.
Jorden said she checked to ensure her horses and pets were safe, but didn’t see any need to evacuate.
Neighbour Lynn Sutton, who lives with her husband Alex Sutton in a sprawling yellow Mexican-style house, also said she never felt their house was threatened, even though at one point the flames advanced rapidly toward it.
Only for a short time, when the winds changed direction and the fire raced down the hill toward their house, did Sutton start to worry.
“It was moving fast and the flames were quite high,” said Sutton. “You wouldn’t think so because the sage is not that tall, but boy when sage starts to burn those flames can get up there, 10 to 15 feet in the air. It was hot and I could feel the heat of it. So yes, there was probably about 15 or 20 minutes when I thought we were not going to be lucky this time.”
Sutton said she was more concerned about possible smoke damage than any fears the house itself would burn.
At that moment, a tanker plane swooped down over the strip of land separating the Suttons’ house from the flames and dropped a load of red fire retardant. The fire stopped advancing.
“I thought hallelujah, I knew you guys were coming,” said Sutton. “That was the end of the fire as soon as he dropped that load. And he was so good.”
With the blowing winds, some of the retardant drifted onto the Suttons’ house covering the yellow stucco with red splatter.
Sutton described it as sticky, heavy and wet. Because the retardant bakes in the sun and becomes extremely difficult to remove, her husband Alex stayed up much of the night hosing it off. Even still, there are pink streaks running down their back wall.
Both Sutton and Jorden are in awe at the work done by the aerial firefighters from the wildfire management branch.
Two helicopters flew around picking up water from a nearby pond.
“They just swirl around each other, pick up the water and head back out. It’s just amazing,” Sutton said. “Their lights are on through the smoke.”
Jorden is similarly impressed.
“Oh my God, they are just amazing,” she said. “They are amazing.”
At times it was dark from the smoke and it didn’t look like the pilots would be able to see what they were doing, but they kept at it, Jorden said.
Sutton said she was the last to evacuate and she only did it because she thought people might worry if she didn’t.
Before leaving, however, she got on her lawn tractor and rode across the field below their house to open a back gate for their horses.
Although Jorden didn’t evacuate, she gave some thought to what she would take with her if she had to get away – passports, their computers and precious photos.
“I packed our daughter’s baby photos because I know she values them and we all value them, but that was the only thing I packed that was not really essential,” Jorden said.
Both women agree that an event such as this brings neighbours closer together.
Neighbours alerted each other when the flames were noticed, either by phone or by knocking on doors.
Jorden said it was around 5:30 p.m. when she and her husband first saw the fire burning at the top of the hill. They reported the fire and then started contacting neighbours.
Sutton said she and her husband were watching television oblivious to what was happening until they heard a neighbour banging hard on their door and telling them they should get out.
“We are grateful that we’ve got good neighbours,” said Jorden. “The whole community was together in this and we’ve had lots of people call us to ask if we’re okay.”
Sutton said she’s very disappointed that once again this fire was human caused, but she also praises her neighbours for pulling together.
Jorden said after the 2010 fire, the neighbours got together and had a party at the Jordens’ house.
“We won’t do that this time,” Jorden said.
Sutton claims otherwise.
“There will be a party,” said Sutton with a wide smile. “She doesn’t know it yet because I haven’t told her.”