Jeremy and Darcie Welch cradle their seven-month-old son Riley at a friend’s home in Langley (KATYA SLEPIAN/BLACK PRESS)

VIDEO: Young parents’ dream turns to nightmare in wildfire

Maple Ridge family flees to Langley to escape 100 Mile House wildfire

When Jeremy Welch and his family moved out of Maple Ridge just two weeks ago, they thought they were leaving behind ever-rising house prices for a picturesque new home in the Cariboo.

“It was a decision to try and make our family a unit that didn’t have to have a dual income and daycare,” Welch said. “Mum could stay home and take care of the baby and we could have a yard for him to play in.”

Instead, just days after getting the keys to their new place in 100 Mile House, Jeremy, 38, his wife Darcie, 38, and seven-month-old Riley found themselves evacuating their Elliot Lake Road home.

“We took possession on July 1 and, within a few days, the fire started,” Jeremy said. “We had just started picking out paint colours.”

Eight days ago, when the Gustafsen wildfire started, it was so small that they couldn’t imagine it lasting. As of yesterday, it covered 5,000 hectares.

Firefighters attempting to extinguish the Gustafsen fire when it first started. Max Winkelman photo

“We figured, the next day it would be out – that they would have it under control,” Jeremy said.

The first day of the fire – when it still seemed innocuous – the Welches watched as firefighting planes circled overhead and dropped water on the blaze. Darcie, whose family lived in 100 Mile House and was the reason the Welches chose the town, took Riley and went to stay with her parents.

Jeremy stayed behind, painting and organizing their new home. He woke up the next morning to a wildfire worn down to almost nothing. Darcie planned to return home to help install sprinklers at the house, just in case.

RELATED: B.C. wildfire crews prepare for windy weekend

Then the wind started.

“It turned this fire into a raging storm that they have no control of,” he told Black Press on Tuesday.

Jeremy Welch snapped this photo of his house before leaving 100 Mile House. Jeremy Welch Photo

Conservation officers came by the house and told Jeremy to get out. “Now!”

“I had no time. I grabbed some of our important paperwork and hooked up our cargo trailer.”

RELATED: 100 Mile is under evacuation

They thought they’d be back in a day.

“We didn’t take it seriously enough to dig through our boxes to find all our most important things,” Jeremy said.

The Welches went to stay with Darcie’s family in Buffalo Creek.

“It was about a 15-minute drive away from the fire. But 15 highway minutes of driving… so a fair bit.”

VIDEO: The Welch family relive their escape from 100 Mile House

A fair bit didn’t turn out to be far enough. Buffalo Creek was put under an evacuation alert.

“It was tough to know what we should do; whether we should stay or whether we should go,” Jeremy said.

“It was really smoky, so with the little guy we didn’t know if it would be safe,” Darcie said. “With leaving, I was worried that if the highways were closed going out of town, we didn’t want to be stuck in the vehicle on the road and a fire pops up.”

“It was kind of scary that way. It was so smoky,” Jeremy said. “The thought that if our escape route, if the information wasn’t accurate, and by the time we got there the fires had shifted…”

RELATED: Interactive map paints B.C. wildfire picture

They decided to chance leaving.

“It seemed so surreal, that we went up there to achieve our dream and it’s just gone,” Darcie said. They got ready in a haze, grabbing their few possessions as well as those of Darcie’s parents, who were out in Tofino when the evacuation alert was issued.

“We packed up what we could in a frenzy, me with him strapped onto my back because he was being fussy,” Darcie said. “We were a mess by the time we got out of there.”

BC Wildfire Service planes fight the Gustafsen fire. Bob Grant Photo

So on the day Riley turned seven months old, the Welches made the harrowing seven-hour drive from Buffalo Creek down to Langley.

Riley didn’t seem to mind it too much.

“We kept him pretty happy,” Jeremy said. “He’s such a tough little guy.”

The trio arrived at a friend’s house in Langley early Tuesday afternoon – just hours before speaking to Black Press. They plan to stay there until the fire dies down and they can return to 100 Mile.

RELATED: Fire still too dangerous to check properties in 105, two lost in 108

Jeremy and Darcie are determined to keep up a brave face for Riley. Still, they can’t help but agonize over what’s left of their new life up north.

“We may not have a house. Our house is on the front line of the fire,” Jeremy said.

“We know that no matter what happens, if the house is still there or it’s gone, the community is burned out. It’s tough to know that’s what we’re going back to.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Driving into the local Wild Kingdom

Cougar kills deer in front of startled motorist north of Kamloops Lake

We need more people fighting wildfires

I am a 79-year-old retired forest service employee. My long suit was fire suppression

TNRD approves spending $100,000 on monument to wildfire volunteers

The monument will be erected in the plaza outside Sandman Centre

BC Rural Dividend program announces fourth intake

Local governments, not-for-profit organizations and First Nations encouraged to apply

TNRD hires manager to help with fire recovery

Thompson-Nicola Regional District to help landowners who were adversely affected by the disasters

VIDEO: Rare comic showing Superman’s 1st appearance to be auctioned

The 1938 comic features Superman hoisting a car over his head

Stiff fine for B.C. man caught trafficking bear parts

A Cache Creek resident was charged after an undercover sting operation by conservation officers

Vandals pour fake blood on statues at B.C. church

Church members concerned about string of acts of vandalism and possible escalation

Cougar judged risk to public shot and killed in Clearwater

Animal was seen prowling through a subdivision, had killed a house cat

UPDATE: Fire now estimated to be 1,500 hectares

Evacuation ordered for 103, 108, 105 Mile and the western part of Lac la Hache

Man linked to Shuswap farm where human remains found to appear in court

A rally will be held on the Vernon courthouse steps prior to Curtis Sagmoen’s appearance

B.C. snow plow operator helps save elderly man

The 73-year-old man had fallen at his isolated home, and finally was able to call for help

Wildlife group challenges B.C.’s interpretation of law on destroying bears

Fur-Bearers are challenging a conservation officer’s decision to kill a bear cub near Dawson Creek

Tourism numbers continue to climb in B.C.

The biggest rise in international travellers to British Columbia are those coming from Australia

Most Read