From wizard to phoenix

Community helps wizard rise from the ashes

Five days after the fire

Five days after fire consumed Rolf Heer’s Home Of A Thousand Faces where the Radium woodcarver lived and worked, he bought fuel for his chainsaw.

Never mind that his property was a pile of charred rubble after the November 23rd fire and that he was living in a trailer with a portable toilet set up outside, Mr. Heer was ready to get back to business.

While he said he had been heartbroken for the first two days after the fire, his spirits were as high as ever as he smoked and shared about his plans. Maybe he would set up a teepee on his land, he said, where he would carve more of the wooden wizard faces he loves.

Mr. Heer, who is terminally ill with prostate and bone cancer, also had positive health news to share: his new medication had temporarily relieved his pain.

Three weeks after the fire

On Friday, December 14th, three weeks after the fire, Mr. Heer sleeps in his trailer while one of his friends climbs a ladder to secure tarps to a set of poles for a makeshift teepee.

“It’s nice for all the people to try to help me,” Mr. Heer said earlier in the afternoon. “It’s always nice to have a lot of good friends.”

His home was uninsured. In addition to destroying his property, he said the fire also consumed tens of thousands of dollars he had kept in cash.

“I’m sure I’ll get back on my feet again,” he said.

Mr. Heer is grateful for those who are offering their support and is humbled to accept it.

“I need only a house,” he said. “That’s all I want. A shack, something small just to live in.”

Mr. Heer intends to leave his property to the community, but the organization he has chosen is currently not prepared to share publicly about potential arrangements.

Fundraising efforts

Dustin Gottinger was passing by as Mr. Heer’s home went up in flames. Trained in first aid and used to being helpful, he said he felt guilty watching the fire and knowing that “there was nothing I could do in that moment.”

Mr. Gottinger, who was born and raised in the Valley, hasn’t known Radium without the woodcarving wizard.

“Rolf’s always been there,” he said. “It was a part of everyone’s life that was up in flames.”

Mr. Gottinger didn’t want sadness to be the only thing the fire left behind so he started The Rolf Heer Fundraiser to “rally support in all shapes and forms” for Mr. Heer and give the community a means to help.

“No matter what circumstances, you can always shine a positive light on it,” he said.

At first Mr. Gottinger’s hopes were so modest that he said: “I would have been happy if we raised enough money to get him a bottle of vodka.”

To date the fundraiser has collected $877, well over the cost of a bottle of liquor, and Mr. Gottinger has upped his goals. He would like to see enough money raised to get Mr. Heer a home and help him return to carving.

Mr. Gottinger has donation boxes at more than 20 Valley businesses. Supporters can also make donations directly to The Rolf Heer Fundraiser at Kootenay Savings Credit Union. (The fundraiser isn’t collecting donations online in order to assure donors of its legitimacy.)

The Wizard Of Radium Benefit For Rolf

Community members are also coming together to hold a benefit with proceeds going to The Rolf Heer Fundraiser.

The Wizard Of Radium Benefit For Rolf will take place at the Radium Hot Springs Centre at 7 p.m. on Saturday, December 29th.

“It’s gonna be a good party,” said organizer Pat Hess. “Wear your favourite wizard hat.”

At least six bands will be playing and there will be silent and live auctions.

“(Rolf) is planning to do a couple of new carvings for the auction,” he said.

A chainsaw and a few salvaged pieces that survived the fire will also go home with the highest bidders.

Tickets are $25 and are on sale at the Radium Mountainside Market, Avenue in Invermere, and Treasures in the Wind in Windermere.

Mr. Gottinger laughed as he recalled attending one of Mr. Heer’s legendary Halloween parties.

“Everyone’s always had a good time at Rolf’s,” he said. “The benefit is going to be a crazy awesome time.”

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