Store that sur­vived wild­fire de­stroyed

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page - Frank PEE­BLES Cit­i­zen staff fpee­bles@pgc­i­t­i­zen.ca

The Grassy Plains Coun­try Store & Restau­rant in the Lakes District west of Prince Ge­orge some­how sur­vived one of the most dev­as­tat­ing wild­fire calami­ties in B.C. his­tory, then promptly burned to the ground Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Even in the heat of the mo­ment – per­haps be­cause of the mo­ment’s heat – it was an irony not lost on the dozens of res­i­dents who re­sponded to the South­side blaze.

One of them, Xan­dria Ahlbrand, hadn’t even show­ered off the black smoke be­fore she was plan­ning fundrais­ing ef­forts for the own­ers, Fayth and Gary Martin.

“All they did through the whole wild­fire sum­mer, was give and give and give,” said Ahlbrand.

“They worked them­selves ex­hausted, they didn’t charge a penny to any­one, and they con­trib­uted in ev­ery pos­si­ble way, all sum­mer. Ev­ery day, those fire­fight­ers had a buf­fet of free food, they had lunches to go, they had all kinds of sup­plies, and so did any­one who was in need from the evac­u­a­tions. The Martins were he­roes. That’s the only word for it. And now, they have been hit with this ter­ri­ble loss so we have to show them that they are re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated, that we love them for what they did, and for this to hap­pen to them is just crazy. And we’re go­ing to help. We’re not a com­mu­nity over here, we are a fam­ily.”

Ahlbrand is un­sure if the store and cafe had in­sur­ance, but she knows that the losses are inevitably larger than such poli­cies will cover.

The Grassy Plains Store, after all, was the unof­fi­cial head­quar­ters of the wide­spread, ru­ral and ge­o­graph­i­cally iso­lated South­side com­mu­nity in be­tween Fran­cois and Ootsa Lakes.

The only way into that re­gion other than re­source roads is the Fran­cois Lake ferry.

Ahlbrand and her mother Cather­ine Van Tine Marcinek were driv­ing to work at about 8:15 a.m. and no­ticed too much smoke com­ing from a rooftop vent. They pulled in and joined an­other passerby who had no­ticed the same. Be­fore long, the black smudge also had traces of flame com­ing out the vent, and soon the large in­te­rior was en­gulfed in flames.

The store also had an apart­ment oc­cu­pied by a mother and two chil­dren. The grow­ing clus­ter of on­look­ers checked the suite, found it empty, and moved next to clear out the ad­ja­cent build­ings (one of them was a meat pro­cess­ing op­er­a­tion less than six feet from the store). They found some gar­den hoses and used them in vain as they waited for the South­side Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment to ar­rive.

“They did re­ally good work,” said Van Tine Marcinek.

“The fire­fight­ers soaked down the build­ings nearby and saved them all, ev­ery­thing, ex­cept the one store struc­ture,” Van Tine Marcinek added.

An es­ti­mated 60 peo­ple joined the fire­fight­ing ef­fort.

The store is a short dis­tance from the Grassy Plains School, the com­mu­nity hall isn’t much fur­ther up the road, and it’s the hub of other nearby homes and busi­nesses. There are only a hand­ful of com­mu­nity clus­ters on the South­side, but Grassy Plains is one of the most no­table ham­lets in the forestry/agri­cul­ture en­clave.

Pri­vate cit­i­zens, fresh off a sum­mer of dogged wild­fire fight­ing, much of it on their own terms, had wa­ter trucks and other re­sources at the ready. The Ch­es­latta First Na­tion rolled a num­ber of use­ful peo­ple and ma­te­ri­als to the scene.

The fire­fight­ers were grate­ful for the help.

“The 911 call came in about 8:20,” said fire­fighter Axel Orr.

“We were on-scene within a half-hour or a bit less. We had three peo­ple on-scene from the de­part­ment with our tanker truck and a res­cue truck with foam. We were also helped by a lot of com­mu­nity mem­bers and some of their trucks and other re­sources. It was great to see that big re­sponse.”

Al­though there were fuel pumps sit­u­ated in the park­ing lot out front of the store, there was no gas or diesel in the un­der­ground tanks. That re­lieved some of the po­ten­tial dan­ger of the fire.

“Our main con­cern was the ad­ja­cent build­ings. We knew as soon as we got there we couldn’t save the first build­ing,” said Orr.

“It’s so sad. That’s all there is to say about it. The Grassy Store fed fire­fight­ers and they fed res­i­dents in need all sum­mer long, they did in­cred­i­ble things, they did it all for free at great per­sonal ex­pense to them­selves, but they didn’t think twice about do­ing it, and now this hap­pens to them.”

The cause of the fire is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Orr said the ori­gin seemed to be the kitchen, in the vicin­ity of a deep fryer.

At the time of the fire, Fayth Martin was out of town and hus­band Gary could only join his neigh­bours in the ef­fort to spare the ad­ja­cent build­ings.

The fam­ily who lived in the store’s suite will be in need of some house­hold items and per­sonal ef­fects, hav­ing lost all of their be­long­ings.

Do­na­tion dis­cus­sions can be di­rected to Lisa Orr at 250-6943609.

The vol­un­teer fire de­part­ment would also ap­pre­ci­ate more per­son­nel. Any­one liv­ing in their area who would like to join their ranks is asked to call 250-6943219.

“We are low in vol­un­teers,” said Orr. There are an es­ti­mated 1,400 house­holds among the com­mu­ni­ties of the South­side.

“We had three peo­ple show up to the call, and two oth­ers join in progress. An is­sue for us is how short­handed the de­part­ment is. We have the trucks, the gear, the phys­i­cal re­sources, we just need more fire­fight­ers. The train­ing isn’t in­ten­sive, and we need the peo­ple. I hope this is an in­ci­dent that will show peo­ple how im­por­tant the de­part­ment is and will want to give us a call.”

HAND­OUT PHOTO BY MIKE ROBERT­SON

The Grassy Plains Coun­try Store & Restau­rant in the Lakes District burned down on Wed­nes­day.

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