British Columbia·Feature

'Trying to save what we've worked so hard for': Loon Lake fire causes devastation

Karla Hein had just a few minutes to gather her belongings before police escorted her from her family's property in the Loon Lake area in B.C.'s Interior Friday. A wildfire swept through the area forcing thousands from their homes.

People risked their lives to save animals as flames closed in near farm

A police officer gave Karla Hein just 10 minutes to grab whatever she could before police escorted her family from their property in B.C.'s Loon Lake area on Friday. A nearby wildfire was creeping closer to their home and they had to leave.

For the last 50 years, the Heins have raised show horses on their farm in the rural-recreation area of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

"I had to leave some animals behind," said Hein, crying as she talked about her beloved barn cats she couldn't save. The cats were outside when Hein and her mother were evacuated Friday.

"We just threw whatever we could," she said.

An evacuation order was issued Friday night for 376 homes in the Loon Lake area as flames from the nearby Ashcroft fire closed in.

Hein was able to leave and save the family's show horses. They're safe at a friend's farm near Kamloops, but the animals are skittish, agitated and have inhaled a lot of smoke. 

One of the horses is pregnant and there are fears she might lose her foal. Another horse has a nasty gouge on her shoulder. 

Her uncle and brother-in-law were still in the Loon Lake area Saturday, trying to save the property.

"We're trying to save what we've worked so hard for," she said in an interview at her friend's Kamloops farm.

"My mom has been doing this [raising show horses] for 50 years and everything could be gone," she said. 

Hein's mother, Marion Szepat-Tait, said the shock is wearing off and anger is settling in.

Hein is grateful to her friend, Kelly Kennedy, who risked her life on Friday night to to help take the horses to safety.

Kennedy drove from her farm just outside Kamloops to help save Hein's animals.

Equipped with three trailers, she drove to Hein's Loon Lake farm, grabbed as many animals as possible and drove back to Kamloops. Kennedy, Hein and her mother left under police escort.

"We could see it was getting worse," Hein said. The RCMP constable who came to escort Hein from her property asked if she had masks. She did not.

"Things are going to get rough," the officer told her.

He was right: Kennedy and Hein watched as homes burned before their eyes. Flames painted the sky red.

"We saw the homes on fire, it was just a wall of heat," said Kennedy.

"It was super, super hot, but the smoke was the worst part of it," she said, still coughing on Saturday morning from the smoke she had inhaled the night before.

With ashes clouding their visibility and flames licking the sides of their trailer, Kennedy and about twenty other residents managed to escape, but saw other homes burn to the ground.

"It was totally devastating to watch," she said. 

Wyatt Deeter, who lives in Kamloops and is not an evacuee, came by to pet his horse. 

Evacuees cooled off under the hot summer sun across the farm.

Eight families — along with their horses, dogs, chickens and pigs — are now at Kennedy's farm, that's just three kilometres from the Kamloops airport. All those families, including Hein, are fire evacuees.

Kennedy has been responsible for saving many of those animals. 

"Without Kelly, I wouldn't know where I would be. She is an amazing lady and has a heart of gold," said Hein. 

A pop-up evacuation centre at a hotel in Kamloops put aside crates of water, animal feed, buckets and clothes for Kennedy to pick-up to take back to the evacuees at the farm.

"It's just everybody is willing to do something and that's what happens at a time, when a crisis hits," said Kennedy. 

She isn't done saving animals. On, Saturday she fought through red smoky skies to retrieve more stranded horses in Clinton, north of Cache Creek.

An evacuation order for east of Clinton was issued on Saturday at 10:30 p.m.

Kennedy has been on the move saving animals since Saturday, and doesn't plan on slowing down.