70 MILE HOUSE - When retired firefighter Brad Potter decided to stay behind and defy an evacuation order, authorities asked him three questions: his name, date of birth, and who his dentist is.
“That makes you think,” Potter says. “In other words, you have chosen to stay when the government has advised that you leave, and if the fire comes your way and all they find is charred remains, they want to know who your dentist is.”
Potter runs a bed and breakfast on Green Lake, about 160 km northwest of Kamloops. The area is currently under an evacuation order due to the Elephant Hill Wildfire which started last month near Ashcroft.
Potter is the founder and former fire chief of the Interlakes Volunteer Fire Department and while he’s no longer an active member, the 63-year-old says he felt capable of staying and safely protecting his property.
“I took my wife and son and animals up to Horse Lake and then I came back and I have basically fire-proofed my property as best I can,” he says. “Of course they (family) are worried about me, but they also know I’m me. I’m not going to do anything stupid.”
It’s now been two-and-a-half weeks since the evacuation order was issued. Aside from the occasional visit from police or B.C. Wildfire crews — who came out and installed rotating sprinkler heads on his house, cabins and outbuildings — he’s all alone.
“It’s just me and a couple marmots, and one cat,” he says. “At first it was a frenzy, protecting the property was very physically tiring. Now it’s more the mental fatigue.”
On Saturday morning, Aug. 12, Potter got a visit from the RCMP again asking him to evacuate.
“That was the only time I freaked out a bit,” he says. “These guys were visibly terrified. I guess there were about 10 properties where people had stayed behind and they were here to tell those people to leave. They told me ‘this fire has jumped all the protection we had in place and is coming your way.’”
Potter didn’t get any sleep that night, but he didn’t leave. As of Wednesday, Aug. 16, he says the fire appears to have slowed down and is hoping the evacuation order is lifted in the coming days. The closest the fire came to his home was about two kilometres.
If he ever did feel imminently threatened, he did have a plan B.
“I was going to head out on my boat with a bottle of whiskey and watch it happen,” he says.
Staying to protect his property was a personal choice, he says, and not one he would recommend to everyone.
“You can’t be stupid about this, you can’t just be a stubborn person. You have to have some knowledge,” he says.
Even after the evacuation order is eventually lifted, Potter says the effects will be felt for some time.
“We were booked solid from mid-July through September,” he says of his business, Wind and The Pillows B&B Retreat. “Of course, all that had to be cancelled.”
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