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

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.

Fire trucks arriving at the Gustafsen fire shortly after the fire broke out on July 6. 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.”

Smoke from the Gustafsen fire on July 6. Tara Sprickerhoff 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.

BC Wildfire

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
RCMP investigating suspicious trailer found abandoned in Cache Creek

Hazardous materials believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs were found

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

Grade 5 student Liam Ouellette and Grade 4 student Trigg Jansen read together in Horse Lake Elementary School’s reading room. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Reading, literacy opens doors to learning

Students at Horse Lake Elementary School seek out challenging reads.

100 Mile Mayor Mitch Campsall. (Kelly Sinoski photo, 100 Mile Free Press).
100 Mile Mayor Mitch Campsall. (Kelly Sinoski photo, 100 Mile Free Press).
100 Mile mayor calls on residents to ‘work together’ during pandemic

Mitch Campsall also urges residents to follow the health orders.

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Most Read