Three feared dead in Chilcotin house fire

Jonathan Fowlie CanWest News Service March 3, 2005

WILLIAMS LAKE -- As many as three people are feared dead in a fire that ripped through a home on a reserve in Anahim Lake, a small community about 230 kilometres west of Williams Lake in the Chilcotin.

"It's pretty devastating for most of this community," Roberta Smith, band manager for the Ulkatcho First Nation, said on Wednesday night.

"It's touched everybody," she added, explaining the 420 people on the band's 2 Mile Reserve in Anahim Lake are all very closely connected.

At about 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, RCMP were called to a house on the reserve that was fully engulfed in flames.

Smith said the community's fire truck went to the house as well, but arrived too late to be of any real assistance.

"It went down so fast," she said.

Police met with the community on Wednesday, Smith said, but had yet to confirm who, if anyone, had died in the blaze.

"A preliminary investigation has revealed that a number of individuals had been in and out of the home prior to the fire," Anahim Lake RCMP said in a statement on Wednesday.

"At this time it is feared that as many as three that are unaccounted for may have fallen victim to the fire," police said.

Anita Madsen, a youth counsellor and mental health worker for the band, said she had been speaking with children in a local school, and with others on the reserve, for much of Wednesday.

"It's a pretty big tragedy for this community," Madsen said after returning Wednesday night to her home in Anahim Lake, a community of close to 1,300.

"In our 25 years here, it's the largest thing I've ever experienced," she said, adding she had met with two children on Wednesday whose mother may have perished in the fire.

Madsen and other officials were unwilling to reveal identities of possible victims of the fire, saying on Wednesday evening they wanted to confirm who had died before releasing any names.

Smith, who would only say the people suspected dead were "adults and young adults," said counselors will continue to work with families and others on the reserve.

She added representatives from the First Nations Emergency Services Society and a traditional healer would also be made available.

Smith, who became band manager in August, pointed to the irony of the blaze, saying the community had been revising it's emergency plan to be able to react to events such as the blaze on Tuesday.

"We don't have a 911 number," she said.

"We have a fire truck, but we really don't have people in place to take care of business when those things happen."

She said she had begun looking into the plan when she was named band manager, and that on Wednesday, the day after the fire, someone had arrived to present a proposal to improve the community's response.

Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005