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Tlellegraph: Neighbours saved a safe haven at Richardson Ranch

In a close community like Tlell, we are all affected when disaster occurs.
A Port Clements firefighter responds to the April 14 fire that burned down a workshop and warehouse at Tlell's Richardson Ranch.

Fire broke out in the Richardson Ranch workshop on April 14. As far as we know, a spark from a grinder somehow ignited a 40-gallon barrel of used oil. Oil doesn’t ignite that way alone, so there was likely another substance on top. The result was a large explosion that was heard and felt for several kilometres.

In a close community like Tlell, we are all affected when disaster occurs. Nobody knew the source of the explosion, but everyone who heard it and felt their window shake knew something terrible had happened. Animals, children, and parents went into survival mode. One child, sobbing from the shock of it all, said softly that she knew what it must be like in Syria a comment that highlights how sheltered we are, but also how empathetic our children can be, especially after getting to know the Sirhan children at school.

For some, it took hours to find out what happened. People on the scene said it was like a bomb had gone off. They were thankful they had not been there when explosion blew off the roof, which sent the top of an oxygen tank flying and sprayed nails everywhere. And there were subsequent explosions. It was a miracle no one around the building was hurt.

For people who can see the ranch across the Tlell River, the view was horrific. Karen and Bill Ronnenkamp described a wall of fire as high as the trees. You can imagine the fear seeing the ranch burning, not knowing exactly what was on fire, or if any people or animals were hurt or killed. We all consider the ranch and animal hospital an institution in Tlell, a place we all call upon in distress. If we call the ranch in emergencies, who does the ranch call? Turns out they call the community.

Quick response by both the Tlell and Port volunteer firefighters got the blaze under control. Peter Katinic responded with a strong contingent of men from a nearby birthday party at about 8:30 p.m., leaving the ladies to dance in the face of adversity. Extra support from the half-dozen volunteers who came down from Port was greatly appreciated. But Katinic said it was not only the men on the end of the hose, but many volunteers who manned the trucks, fire gear, safety equipment, and hoses in support. BC Ambulance was also quick on scene.

The workshop and warehouse were completely destroyed, and the latter housed years of parts carefully collected and organized, some that may not be easy to replace. Everyone hoped the next-door kennel could be saved, but it has since been condemned due to fire damage. Unfortunately, the ranch cannot board dogs until further notice.

We can all breathe a sigh of relief that no one was injured, but it is important to recognize the trauma we feel after such a disaster. Since ancient times, humans have had a close relationship with fire. It allowed us to advance as a species in many ways, but it remains a danger. Lost property may seem inconsequential, but a deeper sense of lost security can stick with us long after the fire is out. At first, you might feel a heightened sensitivity to any sort of fire. If you have a traumatic memory of fire, it can return in full-blown panic attack.

So what can we do? Seeking immediate support goes a long way to preventing post-traumatic stress disorder, but we all need to go through the usual post-traumatic stress response. It is important to let our nervous system discharge after witnessing or even hearing about such an event. If you feel heightened anxiety you may be unusually jumpy, or even irritable with friends and family take a moment to notice the sensations in your body. Is your chest tight? Is your heart pounding? Is your stomach in knots?

Sit comfortably and simply notice those sensations. Don’t try and analyze them away, or tell yourself you shouldn’t be feeling that way. Just notice and track how they move through your body. Then ask yourself, where are the edges? Where does it start to feel relatively okay in my body? Where does it feel the best? Sensing where you feel strong, comfortable, or grounded allows your nervous system to relax and discharge the stress response. You may notice it as shaking, tingling, warmth, laughing or crying, even burping or flatulence. This is normal, and this is good.

Finally, come together and talk. This is a story of loss and fear, but also of community support. To Richardson Ranch, the Tlell and Port volunteer firefighters, BC Ambulance, and the community members who always pull together, thank you.