British Columbia·Recovery

Healing after fire: How Rock Creek residents are coping 4 years later

Some community members have made peace with losing all of their things in the fire, while others still struggle to come to terms with what is gone.

'I think a lot of people have lost some inner things about themselves,' says community member

One of the only things left after Janice Thomson's home burnt down in the Rock Creek fire was this truck that she had always hated. Now, she loves it. (Sarah Penton/CBC)

It's been four years since an aggressive wildfire in the Rock Creek area burned down 30 houses and caused hundreds to evacuate.

Many in the southern Interior B.C. community have rebuilt their homes, while some never came back and others have struggled to return to their regular lives. 

Janice Thomson has had a fairly positive experience since losing her home on a farm in Westbridge, about 15 kilometres north of Rock Creek. She had only lived in it for 31 days with her family before it burned down. 

The grandmother describes her recovery as "fabulous."

"We have a beautiful home and I've got my animals now and the farm's up and running, and it took a lot of work, but we got help on that," said Thomson. 

Photos in Thomson's album show the rubble and damage left behind after the Rock Creek fire burned down her home. (Sarah Penton/CBC)
Thomson's new house is just the way she wants it: country style with a big kitchen and room for her kids and grandkids. The red metal roof also makes it safer for wildfires. (Sarah Penton/CBC)

However, not everyone in the community has recovered the way that Thomson has.

Debra Thomas hasn't felt the same since she lost everything she owned in a house she was renting from her brother and sister-and-law, she told Radio West host Sarah Penton.

"For the most part, I never feel myself," said Thomas, who is in her 50s. 

"Everyone says 'well, you're still you' and I go 'yes, but I'm not,' because for me personally,  my clothing, my dress and everything, define who I am, and I don't have that same style anymore. This is very emotional."

The blaze came so quickly, she didn't have time to pack up.

Contents not insured

The house Thomas was renting was insured, but the contents inside weren't.

"I didn't do my due diligence. That was my mistake," she said. It's been tough for Thomas losing all of the items she valued.

"It changes even your recreational lifestyle," she said. She lost her golf clubs, two kayaks and two mountain bikes.

"We were so fortunate that people didn't lose their lives, because that would have been huge. But, I think a lot of people have lost some inner things about themselves ... For me, it's emotional, physical, all kinds of stuff."

New home

Thomas, who works in the office at the Old Cowboy Ranch just outside of Rock Creek, built herself a new home. 

She hired contractors from Alberta to do the framing, but the electrical, plumbing, flooring and cupboards she did herself.

"I did it and it feels remarkable ... I think it was a tool that helped me."

Building her own home, helped her realize she is capable of doing something she maybe wouldn't have done before.

"The inner me is still there, but I can feel sometimes that it's not," said Thomas. "Maybe someday, it'll come back."

Rebuilding

For Janice Thomson and her family, rebuilding a home on the farm took a lot of work, but because she and her husband have a blended family, it helped them get rid of a lot of stuff. 

"Now we bought our [stuff] as a couple, and so it just is more meaningful," said Thomson.

An old green truck she used to hate was one the few things left standing when she returned after the fire. 

On the left, is what remained of Thomson's burned down home in 2015. Her green truck is parked in the rubble, unharmed. (Submitted by Lorne Simpson)

"[It's] the only thing not insured on this property. I think the Lord stood in front of it and said, 'you're not touching this, but you can take everything else.'"

Thomson loves the truck now.

"It just stood out so beautiful. It looked like a brand new vehicle. It looked like a limo."

The biggest advice she has for others is to insure all of your buildings, because even though her house and belongings were covered, she didn't have coverage for her husband's workshop and garage.

"We'll probably never see a beautiful workshop or garage. So that's [what] I would do a little different."


Recovery: Stories From The Ashes is a four-part series that explores the aftermath of B.C.'s devastating wildfires and the effect they've had on people who've lost their homes over the past four decades. It's produced by Sarah Penton and airs on CBC Radio One's Radio West June 10 and 11. 

Recovery is a four-part series that explores the aftermath of B.C.'s devastating wildfires and the effect they've had on people who've lost their homes over the past four decades. 15:57

With files from Radio West

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.