The Kootenay Valley Conflagration.
The great forest fire that swept through the Kootenay valley in British Columbia was most disastrous in its results. Fernie, a prosperous place of 5,000 inhabitants, was completely destroyed, only twenty-five houses standing when the smoke cleared away. Other places along the path of the flames were wiped out; over one hundred lives were lost, and property estimated at over three millions of dollars reduced to ashes. The cyclone that accompanied the fire made it impossible for many of the poor people to escape, and they soon became an easy prey for the devout mg element. The scene during the conflagration defies description. It was then simply a fight for every life. The first building to blaze in Fernie was P. Burns & Co.’s store in the centre of the town, which was ignited by one of the flaming brands borne by the wind from half a mile distant. The Canadian Pacific Ratlway company rushed every available engine and train to the heart of the fire. Every man and every scrap of food that could be secured w’as sent in, and the company did not charge for the work of rescue. Parts of the towns of Hosmer and Michel were burned by renewed bush fires. A correspondent writes that the flames jumped the river by the wagon bridge and set fire to the western portion of the town, and, fanned by a hurricane, the city was completely at their mercy. The w’ind attained a velocity and force of a cyclone, and frightened people were thrown off their feet and in many cases trees crashed to the ground. Crowds rushed to railway stations in the hope of getting a train, and in this manner numbers reached Hosmer in safety, although the trains had to run through sheets of flame which repeatedly set fire to coaches. Two hundred and fifty men, women and children sought refuge in the coal company’s office, while others ran for shelter in the Western Canada Wholesale company’s buildings. Organization in these places was beyond praise, and to the heroism and indomitable courage of volunteer forces of fire fighters many owe their lives to-day. Had the buildings succumbed the loss of life would have been far worse. Relief organization w’as immediately completed when the worst w’as over and provisions from the Western Canada Wholesale company, w’hose building was saved, were distributed. Hundreds of women and children were sent to Cranbrook by special train, and special constables were sworn in to protect property that had escaped. Prisoners in jail were liberated and patients in hospitals were hurried to the coal company’s and Western Canada company’s building and were made as comfortable as possible. Today cook stoves have arrived from Cranbrook and people are being fed upon the coal company’s lawns. For a time communication w’ith towns to the east was kept open, but w’ith the burning of the bridges across the Elk river this w’as closed. Scattered through the valley are many small prairies, and all of these have their groups of refugees. The hills in all directions are masses of flames, cutting off every avenue of escape. The fire spread with unprecedented rapidity, and it is feared that several parties who tried to get through the pass have been cut off. Families have been separated, and there is at present no means of checking up the fatalities. More than one hundred lives are known to have been lost, seventy-four of them in Fernie alone. A territory of one hundred square miles in extent is a mass of roaring flames. Through it are scattered hundreds of lumbermen and prospectors, so that the actual loss of life will not be known for many days. The properties of the Canadian Pacific and Great Northern railwavs are destroyed, their bridges and rolling stock burned; so that it is impossible to either enter or leave the burning area. The latest dispatch from Vancouver says: “There were no new developments in the fire situation at Elk Valley. Conditions are gradually improving and people are returning to the scene of their former homes. Permits are being granted at Fernie to erect temporary wooden buildings to be replaced w’ith brick in ten months. People are being supplied with all necessities and sanitary conditions are good. The forest fire is diminishing and is now not near any settlement.”