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

UPDATED: Interior Health to add 495 long-term seniors care beds

Nelson, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon and Penticton to receive new facilities

Graffiti sprayed on 100 Mile Community Hall

‘We’re having a hard time through this COVID’

Have you been following the Justin Trudeau and WE Charity story?

The weekly web poll for the 100 Mile Free Press

Highway 97 to be repaved in 100 Mile House following complaints

‘It’s been over a month now since those holes have been developing’

South Cariboo piano students see success at online exams

‘I like learning new songs and then actually getting to play them well’

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

Baby raccoon rescued from 10-foot deep drainage pipe on Vancouver Island

‘Its cries were loud, pitiful and heartbreaking,’ Saanich animal control officer says

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Okanagan home

Family says nothing like this has happened since they moved to Summerland in 1980s

B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’ charged with sex assault of teenage boys

The man, 75, is accused of assaulting teenage boys he met through Coquitlam-area churches

B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5 billion as spending spikes, taxes drop

Finance Minister Carole James gives COVID-19 outlook

Canadians torn on scaling back COVID-19 benefits to save money: poll

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they were worried about the size of the deficit

‘Trauma equals addiction’: Why some seek solace in illicit drugs

Part 2: Many pushed into addiction by ‘toxic stress,’ says White Rock psychologist

Most Read