'Nothing is left,' daughter says of parents' home lost to forest fire

A bird bath is all that's left standing at Annie Stewart's parents' place, the only residence lost in the fire at Bocabec, near Saint Andrews.   (Submitted by Annie Stewart - image credit)
A bird bath is all that's left standing at Annie Stewart's parents' place, the only residence lost in the fire at Bocabec, near Saint Andrews. (Submitted by Annie Stewart - image credit)

Stephanie Ann Stewart says her parents watched their house burn down just an hour after they heard news of a forest fire.

Their house, a one-storey in Bocabec, about 20 kilometres northeast of Saint Andrews, was the only one lost in a 540-hectare fire that began Sunday.

Stewart, who goes by Annie, said her parents' house was evacuated, so they were staying at a friend's house across the road. She said the fire came down the hill, destroyed the house, then went back up the hill.

"Nothing is left. It's pretty much just rubble," Stewart said. "All that's left is my mom's bird bath."

Submitted by Annie Stewart
Submitted by Annie Stewart

She said they were able to move their vehicles, save their pets, and her mother grabbed one photo album. Stewart said she grew up in that house and it held a lot of memories.

"All my school pictures, my french diploma. ... A couple of books that I got from my music teacher that passed away from breast cancer. I lost a lot of good memories," she said.

WATCH | Annie Stewart describes what's left of her childhood home:

She said her parents have been grateful for the outpouring of community support, with people donating necessities and cash, and her partner Shawn McLeod started a crowdfunding campaign.

Stewart said her parents didn't have insurance for the house. She said they're getting a trailer to live in and plan to rebuild.

'This fire is not over'

While some residents of southwestern New Brunswick are breathing a sigh of relief Wednesday about the success of firefighters, the message from the mayor of Saint Andrews was: "This fire is not over."

Hundreds of people had to leave their homes, but on Tuesday, officials lifted the evacuation order — even though the fire is still listed as out of control.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

The next morning, Mayor Brad Henderson said the decision was made because the residential areas are no longer under imminent threat. But he encouraged people to stay vigilant and be prepared to leave again.

"There [are] active hotspots that continue to flare up," he told Information Morning Saint John. "That's expected probably not to end for a number of days. It's such a large area and some of it is very difficult to get to."

Henderson said hot and dry weather, as well as high winds, could contribute to the fire spreading.

Roger Collet, a wildlife management officer with the Department of Natural Resources, told an afternoon news conference in Fredericton that the fire now is mostly smouldering but can't be considered contained.

There are up to 400 hotspots in the 540 hectares covered by the fire, which will be continuously monitored, he said.

Premier Blaine Higgs also cautioned that the fire threat isn't over.

Higgs praised the firefighting force, including 50 volunteers, and the "element of calmness" shown in knowing how to tackle the fire.

Melanie Ryall
Melanie Ryall

"We don't need to make more work for them," Higgs said before praising individuals and groups for refraining from adding to the fire risk.

Collet said calm weather has helped conditions, and the province was confident enough about the situation on Wednesday that it sent four water bombers to Nova Scotia, where a fire outside Halifax has already damaged 200 homes.

New Brunswick, which is co-ordinating the effort with Nova Scotia, kept four water bombers.

"We have ourselves covered," Collet said. "We're not expecting a lot of fires today because of the calm conditions."

Shelter remains open in town

In Saint Andrews, the emergency shelter at the W.C. O'Neill Arena is still open and staffed by Red Cross volunteers. Henderson said evacuees who are not comfortable going home yet are welcome to stay there.

He said if people have to evacuate their homes again, they can sign up to receive text and email notifications, and officials would also go door to door.

Henderson said there have been two close calls where the fire got close to homes but didn't touch them. Geoffrey Howson's home in Bocabec was surrounded by charred land on three sides but was still standing.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

Roger Collet, a wildfire management officer with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, previously said the seven water bombers that flew more than 80 hours on Monday are now on standby. He said the fire will now be fought on the ground — unless it worsens.

On Wednesday, firefighters continued to use bulldozers to clear the way to access the more remote areas and to help create fire breaks.