A group of people vacationing in the Shuswap awakened to a real-life nightmare early Tuesday, Aug. 4.
According to witnesses, the houseboat the group was staying on in Mara Lake, near Hyde Mountain Golf Course, caught fire about 2 a.m.
Kayla Mueller and her extended family were staying in a cabin nearby when they were awoken by a relative who had been sleeping outside in a tent.
He heard what sounded like people running on rocks as well as children crying. Mueller said he then saw the back of the houseboat on fire. He ran around to wake up his family but when he ran back seemingly seconds later, the whole boat was already engulfed in flames.
As it turned out, there were 21 people on board, 10 children and 11 adults, Mueller estimated. All of them, including two small dogs, managed to escape unhurt.
“Everybody got out okay, they all got out. We brought them over to our cabin and set them up with towels and sweaters…,” Mueller said.
A couple of families were involved – from Saskatchewan, she thought. They were renting the one-storey houseboat and had just picked it up that night, she was told.
Although Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) responded and were ready to give the families a ride to accommodations, Mueller said the small children were afraid to get back on a boat.
Mueller and her family ended up giving them a ride to a hotel in Salmon Arm.
She said one of the people on the houseboat managed to escape with a cell phone and another with just a wallet. Otherwise, they lost all their belongings.
Sicamous Fire Chief Brett Ogino said when he was called to the fire he needed to get authorization to leave the department’s jurisdiction. He received it and was provided help by search and rescue.
Firefighters arrived to find everyone had escaped unharmed, but had to ensure the blaze didn’t expand into a wildfire with all the surrounding brush.
They were successful in wetting down the area so the fire didn’t extend beyond the houseboat, which was completely destroyed.
Ogino noted that fibreglass and wood burn rapidly.
“It was too far gone – there was not a lot for us to fight.”
He said because there is little remaining of the houseboat, the investigation into cause will be a tough one.
Kayla Mueller said the scariest part for her family was worrying someone was trapped in the fire.
“We wanted to make sure no one was stuck on the boat, otherwise we were fine. We tried our best – all we could give them was water and blankets and rides.”
Interestingly, Kayla’s daughter Gracelyn, soon to turn 12, telephoned the newspaper on her own. One of her reasons was she wanted her mom to receive recognition for all the help she had given the victims of the fire.