Guests rally after wildfire halts wedding

“In the end, the love between my daughter and her husband came out on top of everything else.”

Weddings require months of planning, agonizing over every little detail before the big day arrives.

A forest fire evacuation forcing the reception to be abruptly halted and moved elsewhere is not generally in most wedding planning guides.

But that’s what happened to a Vernon family hosting a wedding reception Saturday night at the Okanagan Centre Community Hall in Lake Country when police arrived at the front door.

Pat Loehndorf, with the Bannister Honda dealership in Vernon, said the fire ultimately made the wedding of his daughter Ashley and the groom Shawn Hanna that much more memorable because of how people responded to the adversity of the moment.

The 80 guests in attendance rallied around the happy couple and transferred everything set up at the hall—DJ’s sound equipment, wedding cake, liquor, wine barrels, an overhead projector, vases with flowers, etc.— to the Lake Country home volunteered by one of the guests.

“Everyone pitched in and it seemed like there were pickup trucks arriving from every direction at the hall to transfer stuff to the house, which was about 10 minutes down the road,” Loehndorf said.

“To have been able to pull that off, everyone coming together to make it happen kind of restores your faith in humanity.”

The wedding day had started off with a perfect hot Okanagan afternoon. The wedding was held outside the hall, located at 11099 Maddock Ave., followed by the wedding party photos at the Ex Nihilo Winery vineyards.

The reception followed and guests were beginning to be served supper at 6:30 p.m. when Loehndorf says all hell broke loose.

“I met up with the police at the entrance way to the hall, and they were very professional in looking out for the best safety interests of everyone that we all had to go,” Loehndorf said.

With some quick thinking, the reception party literally was picked up and moved to a new location, creating one that Loehndorf called one of those magical moments when people come together to create and celebrate a special moment in time, something that wasn’t lost on his daughter despite the fire and smoke.

“She gave a speech on the deck of the house with all the smoke in the background but that didn’t really matter. She was tearing up in thanking everyone for making their wedding such a special event despite everything that happened,” he said.

“They were still able to cut the wedding cake and have their first traditional dance on the balcony of the house.

“At that point it didn’t matter what was happening outside. It was about the love shared between a couple starting out their lives together, and how everyone else there was happy for them.

“In the end, the love between my daughter and her husband came out on top of everything else.”

The happy couple were left with a memorable wedding day that won’t soon be forgotten as they headed off for a honeymoon in Naramata before returning to their home in New Westminster.

Loehndorf added that a sudden change in wedding plans doesn’t compare to those who lost their homes or animals.

“Those are the folks we really need to focus on. You can’t help but feel bad for their loss,” he said.