‘It happened within maybe an hour:’ A N.B. family loses everything in massive wildfire

Click to play video: 'N.B. family hopes to rebuild after home lost in Bocabec fire'
N.B. family hopes to rebuild after home lost in Bocabec fire
One house was lost in the Bocabec wildfire – and the daughter of the couple says the fire took everything in a matter of an hour. The family is hoping to rebuild, saying the community support has been overwhelming. Nathalie Sturgeon has that story, and what is next for the community continuing to battle the fire – Jun 1, 2023

Annie Stewart’s parents have lost everything.

Ed and Stephanie Stewart live in area near Bocabec, N.B., where a wildfire broke out on the afternoon of May 28.

At first, she said, everything seemed fine, but it quickly changed.

“It came down over Bocabec mountain and went straight down to my Mom and Dad’s house and burnt everything and then went right back up the hill,” she said in an interview on Thursday. “It happened within maybe an hour.”

The couple sought refuge from a neighbour, Steward said.

Annie Stewart’s parents home was the only loss in the 540-hectare fire, and they’ve lost everything. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

“It happened so quickly. They went to a friend’s house across the street and watched it burn,” she said.

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It was a house that took three years to build, reduced to ash. Stewart said her mother was beside herself in the days after the fire, and said it’s still hard to believe.

Stewart said in the panic to get out of the house, there wasn’t much time to pick up some of the things the family would have liked to have saved — typical items like photo albums and generational toys, among others.

Fire damage in Bocabec, just outside Saint Andrews. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

“What we just keep in our minds is we have the memories,” she said.

The cleanup process has begun, she said, but the family did not have insurance, so they’ve turned to GoFundMe to help the process and to rebuild — with a goal of $20,000.

Stewart said donations and support have been pouring in as well, something the entire family is grateful for.

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“It just keeps growing, my mother has people helping in St. George and St. Stephen, they’re just overwhelmed by the generosity and they can’t thank everybody enough,” Steward said.

Fire fight continues

But as people begin to turn the page, the fire fight continues.

Roger Collet, a forest ranger with the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development, said residents can expect to smell smoke for the next several days.

He said the fire, which burned 540-hectares, is only about 25-per cent contained as of Thursday. The hope is the rain forecasted for the weekend and Monday may help partially extinguish any remaining hotspots.

A tree is shouldering on the inside, the top turned to ash. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

“We’ll assess every day and make our decisions … it’s likely there will be a few people when it seems like it is completely extinguished that will still be checking,” he said.

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He said there is likely a couple weeks left in the battle against hotspots.

Global News went out to Bocabec Ridge on Thursday to survey some of the damage and found large portions of the area burned, but others untouched.

Fire retardant, a sticky, orangish-red substance that helps prevent trees and grass coated with it from burning, was also visible along the sides of the road and in the treetops in the distance.

One tree was still smouldering on the inside, with the top part of the tree missing entirely.

‘This is going to stay with them for a long time’

The experience, though, has been one Saint Andrews Mayor Brad Henderson will think about for a while.

On Sunday, he got the call where he works, moving quickly to start sharing as much information as he could on social media.

“There’s been a lot of hours put in,” he said, describing while there had been both dark and worrying moments, there were also heartwarming ones.

He said there should be a time to look at how things unfolded after the fire is extinguished. Henderson explained he felt there were many positives through the ordeal, but said there are also things to learn from.

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Fire retardant, a sticky substance applied to areas like tree tops and grass , to help prevent burning is visible in the skyline. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

The most worrying decision, and one he gave the most thought to was the decision to, was to send evacuated people home on Tuesday.

Fire officials deemed it safe for people to return, but Henderson made the announcement during a press conference being livestreamed.

“I can tell you it wasn’t an easy decision,” he said on Thursday. “There is a lot of different conversations that had to happen but having them home, that might have been the first night I could go to sleep.”

Henderson said he is grateful things weren’t worse.

“For the people that lost their home, even to the people that had to evacuate in such a hurry, this is going to stay with them for a long time,” he said.

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