A family lost their home to fire on Matthews Road. (Photo submitted)

A family lost their home to fire on Matthews Road. (Photo submitted)

Rural home outside Quesnel burns to the ground

Icy roads, lack of water, intense heat all factors in response

A local family is trying to put the pieces of their lives back together again after a house fire burned their Matthews Road home to the ground, last week.

The Ten Mile Volunteer Fire Department (TMVFD) was the lead response unit, and they called on the Barlow Creek VFD for mutual aid, to battle the blaze. Seth Shelley, chief of the TMVFD, said the fire was already substantial when they arrived on-scene with their tender (water tanker) truck and engine, along with eight firefighters. The BCVFD brought their tender as well, for more water supply, plus three personnel.

The house was home to Lindsay Orenchuk, her partner Shawn, and their two sons aged 16 and 19. The boys were home at the time the fire broke out, with the parents running a long distance errand in Nazko but on their way home.

“Our sons were sitting down to eat and they saw an orange glow on the snow outside the window,” said Orenchuk. “When they realized there was a fire, our eldest son went on the roof and tried to put the fire out. He fell off the roof. Our youngest son was getting 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 around the time Shawn and I arrived.”

They set to work trying to move the valuables from around the house. Some items were rescued, but a recreational vehicle and a couple of trailers could not be saved from the melting radiance. Their efforts were as intense as the heat, and firefighters and police had to intervene on the frantic family.

“They were actually impeding the firefighters doing their work,” said Quesnel RCMP Staff Sgt. Richard Weseen. “We allowed them to move a feller-buncher away from the house, but when it got to a point that it was a safety issue,” police had to stop them. It was a case of heightened emotions, which was understandable, but sense had to balance with safety, Weseen said.

“When people are in an ultra-stressful situation like that, they can panic. But they have to realize that if we lose one of them trying to retrieve property, or we have to send firefighters in to rescue them, if someone gets hurt doing that, it’s gone from bad to worse.”

Shelley confirmed even upon arrival of firefighters that the home was not able to be saved, and a wall was correctly assessed to be a risk of at some point falling outwardly.

“It is under-appreciated, I think, just how fast a house will go up,” Shelley explained. “Personnel safety is always paramount – getting there and on-scene – and when you get there and it is already a fully involved structure, (how do you remove one of the fire factors) of heat, oxygen, or fuel? The amount of water it takes to knock any one of those out is incredible. Fire is a crazy-destructive force and it’s amazing how fast it is.”

It was a night of freezing rain, so the highways were extraordinarily slick, the driveway to the home 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, nobody feels worse about the loss of a house than the firefighters who were there,” Shelley said.

Now the work of economic recovery and establishing a new home is underway for Orenchuk and family. Accessing emergency services was problematic, she said, because there is a 72-hour window of opportunity to apply for aid, and the fire happened on a Saturday. By the time business hours opened on Monday, there was much for the victimized family to do and little time in which to do it, to qualify for provincial help. Complicating things was there being no clear information channel, she said. No one guided them.

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

“And the community is amazing and we appreciate everything that everybody has been reaching out to us to help us with,” Orenchuk said.

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

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