People watch around 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 as a houseboat on Mara Lake burns to the water line. (Contributed)

North Okanagan restores faith in humanity for houseboat fire victims

Community kindness leaves out-of-province father in tears of appreciation

As if 2020 hasn’t already been a tough year, but to narrowly escape a fire while on vacation with his family was about enough for Chris Murphy.

That is until the kindness of North Okanagan-Shuswap residents put things into perspective.

The Ontario man, his wife and four kids, plus his two Saskatchewan sisters and their families and another family had just picked up a houseboat rental on Mara Lake Monday, Aug. 3.

They didn’t even get a full day on the large boat when an early morning fire cut their three-day vacation short.

“It’s fair to say that another 90 seconds to two minutes certainly all of us would not have made it out of there,” Murphy said, recounting the horrific 2 a.m. blaze while they were all sound asleep.

READ MORE: Passengers escape unharmed from destructive houseboat fire in Shuswap

Scrambling to escape the boat, the families lost everything they had aboard.

That included the keys to Murphy’s Honda Odyssey minivan.

It was going to cost $600 to have the new keys shipped over, reprogrammed and cut to fit.

But when the staff at Bannister Honda had the van towed in and learned the story behind it, they ripped up the bill.

“I was talking to my wife (Wednesday) night and I said, ‘What can I do to help this guy?’” said Jack Decaire, the service department’s fixed operations manager.

So with the support of Bannister, the cost of both keys and programming was covered and Vernon Lock and Safe helped with the cutting. Decaire covered a service on the van and the staff all chipped in to buy a $100 Visa to help get the family back on the road.

“It was a good feeling,” Decaire said.

The gesture (on Thursday, Aug. 6) left Murphy in tears — the first time he’s been emotional since the fire, he said.

“The houseboat company talked to him (Decaire) and they were going to pay for it and he said he, himself, had to do something,” Murphy said.

“The whole thing kind of just renews your faith in humanity.”

While the car dealership went above and beyond, Murphy said the entire North Okanagan-Shuswap community has been so kind to the victims — from the Sicamous motel to the nearby residents who helped them.

“There’s a cabin about 500 yards away (from the fire), those people took us in until 5 a.m., and drove us in and literally gave us the clothes off their back.”

At a time when there is a lot of negativity toward out-of-province visitors, that has not been the experience for the families affected by the blaze.

“It’s a situation where, if you listen to the media, 2020’s been a bad year,” he said. “But something like this can happen and everyone is so kind.

It gives you a different impression on the world.”

The Murphy family fled Toronto during COVID-19 to their Saskatchewan hometown in mid-March and are now headed back to Saskatchewan where they will stay until fall.

But he’s going to miss the beauty and bounty of kindness in B.C.

“Being in Toronto for 16 years you kind of forget how nice people can be — it’s bigger and fewer personal connections,” Murphy said.

The Aug. 4 fire was also the Murphy’s 19th anniversary. It’s definitely one he won’t forget, he said.

“In a way the trip certainly makes you re-evaluate what’s important.”

Aside from some evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, all 21 people on the houseboat escaped, including Murphy, his wife and his four children, ages 10, eight, six and one.

They are most grateful to family friend Jon Witt, who saw the fire and alerted everyone. Witt grew up in Salmon Arm but now lives in Saskatoon, which is what brought the families to the area for a vacation.

“It was the only safe thing we thought we could do together,” Murphy said.

READ MORE: Father recounts narrow escape from Shuswap houseboat fire


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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