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‘Severe’ damage makes Shuswap houseboat fire investigation difficult, official says

Click to play video: 'Vacationing family escapes houseboat blaze on Mara Lake' Vacationing family escapes houseboat blaze on Mara Lake
WATCH: An extended family's houseboat vacation went up in smoke on Mara Lake this week when their boat caught fire. The blaze happened in the middle of the night sending the family rushing to safety. – Aug 5, 2020

Correction: An earlier version of this story said there were 13 children on-board the boat and all the passengers were members of the same extended family. According to a boat passenger, there were 14 teenagers and children on-board and the passengers were friends and family who were part of a “COVID-19 bubble.” The story has been updated to reflect the corrected information.

Whatever caused a destructive blaze that consumed a 75-foot houseboat on Mara Lake in B.C.’s Shuswap region this week is so far “undetermined,” says the Office of the B.C. Fire Commissioner.

“Based on the amount of severe fire damage, it will be very difficult to pinpoint the exact location or cause of the fire,” fire service advisor Jack Blair wrote in an email to Global News on Wednesday.

“One of the occupants reported seeing a glow at the very stern of the boat and the fire rapidly increased in size from there, fully engulfing the vessel within a few minutes.”

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The passengers were “very fortunate” to escape unharmed, Blair added.

The aftermath of a houseboat fire on Mara Lake. Megan Turcato / Global News

The blaze sparked in the early hours of Tuesday morning while the boat was moored on a isolated beach on Mara Lake.

The 21 people who were on the boat rushed to get off the vessel after one person noticed the flames.

Read more: Shuswap houseboat destroyed in overnight fire; Alberta family lends helping hand

“They all ran out in their pyjamas and they didn’t have anything. I think maybe one of them had a phone and one had a wallet and that was it,” said Kayla Mueller, who witnessed the fire.

Mueller’s family was staying at a cabin down the beach and had also noticed the flames.

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“When we came out of the cabin, we could just hear kids crying and we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s happening?’ but it’s lucky they were all off the boat,” she said.

Concerned about the fire spreading to the trees, the Sicamous Fire Department responded in a boat even though the location is out of its service area.

Read more: Wildfire evacuation alerts issued for 43 properties near Princeton

The crew used water from the lake to douse the boat and dampen the area around the fire to prevent any spread.

Onshore, Mueller’s family helped make the now-stranded vacationers more comfortable, then gave them a ride to a hotel.

Read more: Boating reminder: Stay away from fire zones, pleads BC Wildfire

Sicamous is the self-proclaimed national houseboat capital, and fire officials say houseboat fires are rare.

The burnt houseboat, estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, was part of Sicamous Houseboats’ fleet.

In a statement, the company said it is grateful that passengers escaped safely and that staff are working with the fire commissioner to determine the cause.

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