Property owners lose everything in wildfire at Puntzi Lake

Dan and Jan Coates, who lost their Woodland Caribou Resort in the Puntzi Lake wildfire, said it was one of their guests who alerted them.

Dan and Jan Coates, who lost their Woodland Caribou Resort in the Puntzi Lake wildfire, said it was one of their guests who alerted them to the fire.

“He was out fishing and spotted it on the hill behind our place,” Dan told the Tribune Monday.

They gathered their guests, just in case, but when the fire came so quickly told everyone to leave immediately.

“It created such a strong wind,” Dan said of the fire. “It was grabbing the heavy rubber floor mats in front of the suites and throwing them in the lake.”

Jan grabbed some company books, the couple threw some clothes in a suitcase and jumped in the car, stopping at the neighbour’s, just in case they hadn’t see the fire.

“We all bailed out together,” Dan said. “There wasn’t anything there worth dying for.”

Originally from the Lower Mainland, the two purchased the resort five years ago in July.

It had been closed for quite a few years and they “resurrected it from the depths” as a retirement project, and a chance for clean air and clean living.

“We were inviting people in and they kept coming back,” Dan said.

Puntzi Lake is a wonderful place to live, he added.

The first night of the fire Tsi Del Del First Nation opened the teacherage so Dan and Jan would have a place to stay and brought them food so they would have something to eat.

Dan said the resort consisted of a lodge with six suites, a two-bedroom lake house for cooking that was the original home, a workshop, boats and tractors.

“We don’t even have any photographs of our grandchildren. We lost everything,” he said.

Geordie Fergusson also lost his house and all of his possessions, but managed to save his truck, two iPads and his wallet.

He credited his neighbour for getting his dog out.

“He couldn’t find the cat, but cats are famous for coming back,” Fergusson said from the Puntzi Lake Air Tanker base where he works loading aircraft. “And when it does I’m going to set him up with his own blog so he can make money and pay me back for all the money I spent on cat food over the years.”

Fergusson has lived at Puntzi Lake for nine years at an old resort he bought and was fixing up.

Fergusson was on the ground loading retardant into tankers when the fire erupted and described the event as a “perfect storm.”

Though initially shocked, Fergusson quickly gathered his wits about him and got back to the task at hand.

“Once I knew my dog was safe, then I was back to work. I knew I had a job to do and I could not abandon my job because I would be letting down the people on the ground who were and are doing their best.”

Two GoFundMe crowd funding accounts established for victims of the fire have already gathered more than $15,000 each.

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