With more than 20 years experience as a firefighter in the Township of Langley, Shawn Cahill is familiar with the hot, smoky battlefield that often comes with fighting blazes.
But never has he witnessed anything as intense as the Ashcroft reserve wildfire that ripped through Loon Lake near his cabin last Friday (July 14).
“It sounded like a jet coming over the ridge,” said Cahill, a Brookswood resident and firefighter at Murrayville Hall 6. “There’s no comparison. We could hear the propane tanks explode.
“It was very quick, it was ridiculous.”
For 10 years, Cahill has owned a boat-access only cabin on Loon Lake, located about 40 minutes north of Cache Creek. In the summertime, he and his two daughters, Taylor, 17, and Keira, 14, would go there “every chance we had.”
So when his good friend, Daryl Hart, called him on Thursday to tell him the wildfire was inching closer and closer to their family’s oasis, he knew he had to get there right away.
Hart, a retired Surrey firefighter and former Fort Langley resident, now lives on Loon Lake.
At the time of Hart’s call, Cahill had been loading an ambulance with supplies to help with the fires in the B.C. Interior. He left immediately, and arrived at his cabin at 2 a.m Friday. After a few hours of sleep, he joined Hart, two other firefighter friends from Surrey and North Vancouver, and one of his friend’s sons, in prepping the area for potential disaster. They managed to water down their cottages, move firewood and flammables away, and take out some of their valuables, before a group of people across the lake screamed out that an evacuation had been ordered.
By that point, three more volunteer firefighters from Loon Lake had arrived, and the group decided to stay behind to continue to help. Cahill could see the fire creeping up on either side of the lake, but it appeared the watering they had done was working.
“We thought the fire had passed and went to the other side of the lake to help,” Cahill said. It quickly became apparent, however, that they, too, needed to evacuate the area.
Cahill was able to get one more look at his cabin before leaving. “I was pretty certain the glow I saw was mine. The neighbour’s place was fully engulfed.”
The group formed a convoy, travelling on back roads through Chasm over to Clinton, where they stayed in a hotel for three hours before being evacuated from that area, too. The fire licked both sides of the highway for much of the drive, and Cahill said they had to put the windows in their vehicles up because of the heat.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Cahill was still uncertain if his cabin, or any of the other 376 properties on the lake, had survived.
“It’s really unfortunate, people are just in tears,” he said.
“I know so many people who don’t know yet if their cabins are gone.”
There are currently 155 wildfires burning in B.C., and of those, 27 are fires of note and 15 are directly threatening communities. The firefighting effort has cost the province $98.4 million thus far.
Just over 3,000 personnel are currently battling the blazes, including four firefighters and one chief commanding officer from the Township of Langley, who were sent to Williams Lake last week.
Township of Langley Local 4550 firefighters will also be collecting food, clothing, money, pet food and supplies outside of Costco this Friday morning (July 21) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Firefighters will be leaving right after to deliver all donations to Kamloops.
Costco is located at 20499 64 Ave.