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'Kind of felt like we were on our own': B.C. family rebuilds decades-old resort destroyed by wildfire

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A decades-old resort in B.C.’s Fraser Valley is welcoming guests back, eight months after the uninsured site was decimated by the Kookipi Creek wildfire.

Bryan Fogelman, the owner of REO Rafting and Yoga Resort in Boston Bar, says it cost roughly $450,000 to rebuild the family-run business—a quarter of which was paid through donations.

“We received a lot of support from clients who visited us from Europe, the United States, all over,” the 67-year-old explains. “This isn’t just a small little local business; we’ve had a positive impact on over 120,000 people from around the world and they showed some support from us, which was great,” Fogelman adds, noting the resort has led to dozens of marriages—including his own.

His family was desperate for financial help because the resort hadn’t been insured for fires in years, due to its remote location in the Nahatlatch River area.

That’s where the Kookipi Creek wildfire first erupted on July 7, 2023. It was brought under control weeks later, before strong southwesterly winds arrived mid-August, sparking the flames back up.

At that time, an incident management team with B.C. Wildfire Service had assumed command of the fire, while other resources were diverted to battle several out-of-control blazes burning in the Okanagan.

Fortunately, all 65 guests and staff at the resort managed to escape safely, but Fogelman says he wishes the Fraser Canyon got more attention and support during B.C.’s record-breaking wildfire season.

“It kind of felt like we were on our own,” says Fogelman. “Our area was triaged—it was just deemed less important, less valuable.”

He’s determined to make sure the same devastation never happens again.

Rebuilding efforts have included a complete overhaul of the resort’s waterline system, which used to be partially above ground. Now, it’s been replaced by a larger, more durable pipe that’s buried one-metre deep and distributes water across 800 metres of the property.

Fogelman says the resort is also working with the Stein Nahatlatch Initiative, which operates one of Canada’s 120 Guardians programs.

Guardians are trained First Nations members who serve as stewards of their territories and are often the first to respond to emergencies in remote areas.

In April 2023, B.C.’s government committed to investing $8.9 million over three years to support these programs, with the goal of launching its own Guardians and Stewardship Training Initiative in spring 2024.

CTV News has reached out to the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship for an update on the engagement process that started earlier this year.

“I think local guardians will make a huge difference in B.C. because they live in the area, care about the area and they will defend it,” says Fogelman. “So I’m really hoping this is something that gains traction in B.C. because no area should be neglected like we were last year.”

The challenge the family now faces is spreading the word that their resort is open before the season comes to a close in mid-September.

Fogelman says bookings are down by about 75 per cent.

“In the winter and spring, we were afraid to really get the word out there,” he explains. “As a family business we wanted to make sure that: one, we could meet our target of the June 1 reopening and two, that guests would love the experience.”

Based on the success of opening weekend, he’s confident that the resort is just as special now as it was when he first opened it in 1982.

“We had 42 rafters and over 30 guests and they were all so appreciative and inspired—they could see what we’ve done to reshape the property,” says Fogelman.

“Just getting them out of the busy city world and into nature—I think it does something to people, and they do connect with each other out here.”

Correction

This story has been updated to correct the number of people who were at the resort when the fire broke out. There were 65 people present, including both guests and staff.

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