New Chilcotin Lodge owners find themselves in the thick of it

Fires and heavy smoke “the new normal” at Riske Creek

Everyone has a story to tell about the wildfires.

But for David “Kurt” VanEmbers, his wife Brenda and son Kris – well-known in Salmon Arm for starting Chestor’s House of Cinnamon Buns franchise – how they managed to be be in the thick of it all at Riske Creek is still a head shaker.

After retiring from the cinnamon bun business, VanEmbers said they were looking for a fresh start and discovered the historic Chilcotin Lodge, which they purchased April 14, 2017.

“I found it on the Internet and that was it,” VanEmbers said Wednesday evening standing outside the lodge, located in the heart of Riske Creek above the junction of Highway 20 and Farwell Canyon Road. “Crazy, huh?”

A short three months later the family found themselves in the middle of a firestorm, literally.

“We dodged a bullet six times,” VanEmbers said, sharing his story as he was surrounded by thick smoke from the Hanceville-Riske Creek fires. “It was coming from this way, and then that way, then it was coming from there and then the winds shifted, then it was coming from that way again and that way. How it missed us we have no idea.”

Part of the VanEmbers’ luck in missing the firestorms can, in fact, be directly attributed to the hard work of his new neighbours and the BC Wildfire Service.

“People have been amazing. Just amazing.”

VanEmbers said on several occasions the fire would be bearing down on them and suddenly people would arrive with water, shovels and whatever else they had to put out the fire, or at least stop it in its path, then head off to the next neighbour and do the same.

He described waking up one night to find police and fire crews and trucks in his yard at 1 a.m. and them telling him the fire was a half mile away and coming at them from behind the hill. Again the winds shifted at the last minute, but fire crews stayed behind and set up a water bladder and sprinkler systems on the Chilcotin Lodge and several other homes in the neighbourhood just in case, which will likely remain until the threat of wildfires subsides this fall.

“I’ve never had so many days of continuous nightmare,” VanEmbers said. “I guess this is the new normal.”

The family does have a couple bookings for the lodge for travellers coming out of Bella Coola this week. Otherwise, the business is getting little or no guests due to road closures, travel restrictions and threat of wildfires.

Perhaps the only income the family will see this month, ironically, will be from them providing hundreds of cinnamon buns to the nearby BC Wildfire Service crews.

VanEmbers empathized though he is certainly not alone in the economical impact the fires will have on businesses in tourism.

“It’s hurting everyone in the tourism industry. It’s just bad.”

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A second heritage building at the Chilcotin Lodge gets protection from a sprinkler system on the roof courtesy of the BC Wildfire Service. (Angie Mindus photo)

Thick smoke and spot fires are part of the landscape in the Chilcotin these days, as seen here July 26 looking toward Toosey. (Angie Mindus photo)

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