By Lyonel Doherty
Erika Robinson’s neighbours have her back, which is what makes her feel so good about living in Oliver.
The woman and her family are still reeling from Friday night’s fire behind the United Church, counting their “blessings” that they still have a home to live in.
Her neighbours and complete strangers rallied together to help ensure their safety while a fire in some bushes spread to their fence and garage.
Robinson was standing in her kitchen at 11:07 p.m. when she heard what sounded like fireworks outside the back of her house on Kootenay Street. She also heard someone yell “Woo hoo!” Twenty seconds later she saw a light flare up in the backyard.
After that a man started pounding on her door, advising them to “get out” of the house. That warning gave the Robinsons enough time to get their truck out of the fire’s potential path.
While Erika rounded up her daughter and animals, a neighbour grabbed a garden hose and started soaking down the garage to prevent the fire from spreading.
Meanwhile, another neighbour came over with an animal carrier and helped search for their cat in hiding. And someone across the street brought them water, while a lady attempted to calm the daughter’s nerves. Erika also mentioned that the fire chief gave her daughter a teddy bear.
“The way the neighbourhood came together . . . the neighbours are what got us through it,” Erika said.
She noted if the neighbour had not doused the garage with water, the crisis would have taken a nasty turn.
The Good Samaritan was Shannon Starkes from Penticton. He was visiting a friend in Oliver when he heard a loud bang and saw a flash. He thought it was a firecracker, so his curiosity led him to the Robinson’s house.
“Holy shit!” He saw the fire and immediately took action by pounding on the door. Starkes then grabbed a garden hose and went to work spraying the garage and surrounding area.
“Wooh! I was like firefighter Joe here,” he said.
Starkes went back to visit the Robinsons the next day and received a $20 Tim Hortons gift card from the family.
Erika also praised the fire department for its quick response and making sure the blaze didn’t spread to other structures. She noted the fire was so hot it melted the inside of the church’s blinds.
The homeowner recalled seeing embers flying over her house and wondering if the roof would catch fire.
“It was a close call,” she stated, noting how everyone came through as a team.
Erika still shudders to think what the outcome would have been if the fire started after midnight when everyone was asleep.
The fire damage was limited to a section of her fence, while the church managed to escape serious damage.
Fire department spokesman Rob Graham said the bushes were still burning when they arrived.
“Had the fire burned for five or 10 minutes longer we might have had a fire in the roof of the church or the neighbour’s garage.”
He noted that neighbours did hear the sound of firecrackers or fireworks. He added that possible incendiary devices were removed from the scene by the RCMP.
Sergeant Blaine Gervais said they discovered several “bird bangers” at the scene, which they believe to be the origin of the loud bangs that neighbours heard.
“The nearby bushes had caught fire as a result of suspects tampering with the bird bangers.”
Gervais said there was a high risk potential for damage, but fortunately the church escaped it.
“There has been several complaints of high school aged youth and transients acting suspicious in the area recently,” he pointed out.
Erika said the area behind her house (in the lane) has been subject to some nefarious goings-on. For example, three break-ins to their trailer, two propane tanks stolen, and an attempted battery theft.
“It gets frustrating,” she pointed out.
But she couldn’t be more proud of her community for coming to their rescue.
(With files from Dan Walton)