Okanagan family's will to enact change galvanized by fire

Rusty Ensign has been lobbying for a rural fire department near his Peachland home for years, and Thursday his will to get one built was galvanized by personal tragedy.

"My daughter got off the bus at 3:45 p.m. and there was smoke coming out the windows of our house," he said.

The 13-year-old assessed the fire taking over her home quickly moved to save the family pets.

"She kept her composure and saved Stitch her Papillon by opening a window and letting the little dog out, then she went down to the other side of the house and got out our four German Shepherd puppies," he said. "By that time the roof was starting to crackle, and she called 911."

She wasn't able to contact Ensign and his wife right away, but she did reach her uncle who quickly went to her side.

"When I got out of my business meeting, I had a text from my brother saying, 'the house is on fire'," he said. "By the time I got there, at 5:15 p.m., it was already down to embers."

Standing around the perimeter of their burning home were his daughter, brother, neighbours and representatives from the RCMP and Peachland Fire Department.

The home, which is on Trepanier Road just past Paradise Valley Drive falls outside the fire protection area, which means there was literally nothing to be done by fire officials than stand outside the perimeter and watch nine years of memories burn to the ground.

"I knew that was the way it was when I moved there," said Ensign, of the fire protection boundaries."We pay a high insurance rate because of that, but the community has attempted to get fire protection. The system is flawed and we need political will to change it."

Several neighbours in the area, he said, have attempted to put something together, but those efforts went "off the rails" for a number of reasons. Not the least of which being cost.

"The regional district did an inadequate study of the neighbourhood and concluded that it would come to $20,000 for a water system," he said.

"They did the study with no grant funding, and the majority did online replies, and said they wouldn't be in favour of it. The made a proposal they knew wouldn't work and it's obvious they needed to turn it down."

What would help, he's concluded, is if the powers that be allowed people to develop into one hectare lots, which is the minimum requirement for a septic field installation.

"There's a huge aquifer in the Trepanier Valley, which would give access to water for a number of single family homes."

With more homes would come a wider tax base, and a means to fund the fire department, he says.

That,  however, is not on the table just yet. Regardless, Ensign thinks he'll return to the neighbourhood he's grown to love.

Meantime, the issue at hand is figuring out where he'll live in the year ahead.

Ensign broke his neck and became a quadriplegic 30 years ago, so he has some special requirements for everyday living.

They're things he believes will be easy to put in place, once his insurance kicks in,  but until then he's living with his mother.

The insurance should also cover the bits and bobs that go in to nine years of living in a home, which is good, because everything is ash.

"We managed to salvage bikes, and a lawn tractor and a few other things out of the garage," he said. "Everything else is gone. The only thing I have left is the Canucks sweater I was wearing."

Emergency Services gave them a couple hundred dollars per person to replace their clothing, and they were housed for the three days following the fire.

Better yet, the community has stepped up.

For his daughter who had to watch her family home burn down, that's been a tremendous help.

Ultimate hockey sent up an account in Westbank, and she was fully outfitted for ringette by Saturday," he said. "She was on the ice Sunday, which let her get her mind off things and be with her friends."

Rusty is busily getting insurance matters cleared away, and trying to figure out if police acted negligently by blocking neighbours who have gathered from saving the garage.

And, the investigation into the fire is continuing as well.

" Right now we are just grateful and thankful for all of friends we have in the community and the support we're getting," he said. "You don't realize how many friends you have until something like this happens. My wife and daughter and I love them all."

The call to authorities was called in raid Valley Drive around 4 p.m., Thursday.

"There was a structure that was fully involved upon our arrival. We made sure Fortis and Hydro had been notified,"said Dennis Craig, Peachland Fire Department Chief.

"And we had been told by dispatch that nobody had been trapped in the home and there were no other safety risks. Then we made arrangements with Emergency Social Services."

That's as far as the fire department was able to go in their work, and the house continued to burn down throughout the day and into the night as the property is situated outside the fire protection zone.

The investigation into what caused the fire falls under the purview of the RCMP.

"There's been no determination on the fire, and we will continue the investigation to rule out any possibility of arson or what have you," said Const. Kris Clark.




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