British Columbia

Musicians Pharis and Jason Romero flee fire that burns banjo shop to the ground

Pharis and Jason Romero were woken by a fire Sunday morning that burned their banjo shop and the cabin where they'd been sleeping with their two children.

'You want to vomit; you want to cry; you want to laugh,' says Pharis Romero about losing all their instruments

Firefighters attend to the fire that burned down Pharis and Jason Romero's banjo shop. (Pharis Romero)

Pharis and Jason Romero were woken by the flames crackling steps away from the cabin where they slept.

The shop where Jason makes banjos, and where the Juno-award winning folk duo keeps every instrument they own, was burning.

"He just leapt out of bed and went and got the garden hose," said Pharis. It was 3:12 a.m.

While Jason tried to fight the fire, Pharis describes herself running across their property in Horsefly,B.C., a small town in B.C.'s Cariboo — naked and barefoot — with a child under each arm.

"I was booking it down across the bridge, yelling ... fire! Get up!"

She woke their lodger, a young man tenting across the river and called 911.

Folk duo Pharis (right) and Jason Romero watched their banjo shop and every instrument they own burn yesterday morning in a fire of unknown cause. (Mike Melnyk)

'Send them fast'

On the phone with the 911 operator, Pharis said she had thought Jason had the fire under control.

"Until he opened the door to the shop and flames came spurting out of the top of the door over his head," she said.

"I called [911] back and said 'Send them fast!'"

The fire burned through their power lines, cutting electricity to the water pump, leaving the garden hose useless.

When they arrived, the Horsefly Fire Department did everything it could, but the shop still burned to the ground — an estimated quarter-million dollars in losses, said Pharis. The cabin where they had slept burned too.

This is all that remains of the J. Romero Banjo Company. (Pharis Romero)

In the morning, they found piles of vinyl records fused together. Finished banjos, meant to be shipped Monday, reduced to melted hardware. Old guitars vanished, along with 15 years of tools and wood.

"Our entire world was in that shop," she said.

"You want to vomit; you want to cry; you want to laugh; you want to just look at it all and go wow, that happened."

The cause of the fire is unknown, Romero said.

'We're safe, and we'll rebuild'

The Romeros did have insurance, and Pharis said they're navigating the "unfamiliar territory" of claims and adjusters, while being grateful it wasn't worse.

The couple have a two-month old baby and a two-and-a-half year old toddler, who like them, had been sleeping in the cabin that later burned. (Their main house is half-torn down for renovations.)

"We are so blown away by the love coming our way," Pharis wrote on Facebook, with people bringing food, offering to help with their kids or making PayPal donations.

They still have no phone, internet, power or running water, but Pharis said they're going forward with hope intact.

"It's stuff," she said. "You know, both our babes are safe. And we're safe, and we'll rebuild."

With files from Audrey McKinnon and Radio West


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