By Ron Hood
At the regular meeting of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Rotary Club on November 2, the club received a presentation from Phyllis Rainey and Joyce Beddow, two of the five members of the Boston Flats Trailer Park Fire Aid committee.
In response to the near-total destruction of the Boston Flats trailer park in the Elephant Hill wildfire in July 2017, the committee established a fund and a process primarily to aid the individuals and families whose homes were destroyed and who were without insurance. The group is dealing today with 40 people who owned 27 of the 46 units that were destroyed, and who had very little opportunity to save belongings: those who lost, lost everything.
Only three units in the park were left standing, but they suffered significant smoke damage. See drone footage of the aftermath of the fire at http://bit.ly/2AlO6rO.
Along with cash donations and support from other agencies, the group has accumulated a significant amount of furniture, household effects, and clothing. As most of the people affected are in temporary accommodation, all of the donated goods must be maintained in storage until replacement homes are sited. There is a continuing cost for this storage, and considerable volunteer time devoted to sorting and to minor repairs.
From an operational standpoint, the intent is to keep the fund, and the activities, open for one year. Expenditures have been for necessities, relocation assistance, and storage of donated items.
As a result of the committee’s activities, all of the victims have been effectively relocated: some in apartments, some in independent living facilities, some in private homes with friends or relatives, and some as “house-sitters” while owners are away for the winter.
As it turned out, it wasn’t all about money. People needed personal help: where to live, who and what agencies to contact, how to navigate the paperwork and endless phone calls, and someone with whom to vent to express anger and frustration. There were also social needs, which the committee members have been tending by hosting events and gatherings, and keeping neighbours in touch with one another.
Other agencies such as the Red Cross and United Way have been extremely helpful, and the committee members have done considerable research and negotiation for victims. Even though things are “in place” at the moment, there is still the issue of people getting back into their own homes in their own neighbourhood. Some issues have arisen, however:
• The owners of the park are committed to reopening, but are being delayed by new regulations and building codes (for example, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District now requires mobile home lots to be larger than they were when the park was originally built, so the infrastructure has to be reconfigured and all-new permits have to be obtained);
• Some people have already ordered their new homes, but they may be ready for delivery before the park is authorized to accept them;
• There will continue to be financial needs to get people properly re-established; and
• Once the park is ready to be occupied, there is still the matter of finishing the units (skirting, landscaping, parking, etc.). In this regard, local contractors have already committed to a work-bee to provide free labour for skirting the new units.
Even though the fire is over, there is still a lot of work to be done to re-establish the lives of those who lost everything. Most of what has yet to be done is now on hold until spring: just another devastating consequence for the unfortunate few, and a longer time commitment for the few dedicated volunteers who are working so hard to provide for them.