When the Thompson-Nicola Regional District rescinded its evacuation order for residents of Botanie Creek Road, excited and relieved homeowners couldn’t wait to return home July 23.
Stacey Robinsmith also wanted to see the property where he grew up, but he already knew there was nothing left of his childhood home or the workshop or most of the outbuildings on his family’s 20 acres of land in the Botanie Valley.
“It’s a loss. Every building on the property was burned,” Robinsmith says quietly in a telephone interview. “Jason Tomlin from the TNRD was the one who told me. He was very kind and he understood the kind of loss I was going through.”
Although no one in the Robinsmith family lived in Botanie Valley full time anymore, Stacey, his wife and their children visited the property regularly – “just about every month” - from their full-time home in the Lower Mainland.
The Robinsmith family’s roots run deep in the valley. “There are so many things that cannot be replaced,” said Stacey. “It sounds like a silly thing, but we still had the tricycle I got when I was five years old. I have five-year-old kids now and when we’d go up there, they’d ride my old bike.”
He says he’s grateful that he removed all the photo albums from the Botanie Valley home “last summer or the summer before,” preserving all those memories.
Reflecting on his family’s loss, Robinsmith has advice for other homeowners.
“There are things people can do,” he says. “Have a fireproof safe in your house. Keep your jewellery and your papers there – I regret that I didn’t do that. Keep good fire-breaks around your property. My lawn mower broke and so I wasn’t mowing around the back.”
Robinsmith was in Lytton on July 16, the day after the Botanie Creek wildfire was first reported.
At that point, the fire appeared under control and he didn’t think it would affect him.
“I saw the pictures of the fire when it was up on the mountain and my friend said, ‘Oh, you’ll need a sprinkler system or something’ and I looked at that picture and just laughed. But then it just grew so big. I saw pictures of it at night and the whole mountain was orange. What’s a sprinkler system going to do against that?”
The fire began July 15 as a four-hectare blaze, growing to 10 hectares the next day before taking off aggressively and expanding to an estimated 470 hectares on July 17, the day evacuation orders were issued for more than 100 people living in the rugged mountain valley just north of Lytton. Its size was eventually estimated at almost 1,400 hectares.
Throughout everything, Robinsmith has maintained his sense of humour. He jokes that he put a new metal roof on his workshop only weeks ago “40 years too late.” The shop did not survive the fire. “My buddy and I went up there on the May long weekend to install the new roof. I’ll see if the warranty’s still valid on it,” he says, adding, “It’s better to laugh than to cry.”
One building – a small cabin - on the lower acreage survived the flames..
“If it survived, that gives us a starting point to stay rooted to the valley,” said Robinsmith.
He said his immediate thoughts when he heard the other buildings were destroyed was “Damn right, we’ll rebuild!”
Robinsmith says he’s “extremely grateful for all the hard work that the firefighters did to protect as much of the valley they did. Under the circumstances, it must have been a heroic fight they put up. I want to say a huge thank you to them.”