Photo by Justin James Productions

Nipika reopens after evacuation order

Evacuation order now lifted; operations resume at mountain resort

Following a dramatic late-night exit from a threatening wildfire three weeks ago, Nipika Mountain Resort was given the go-ahead to reopen Tuesday, August 28th.

If resort-crisis management was an Olympic sport, Nipika would surely take home gold. RCMP showed up at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night to give them the evacuation order. With 100 tipsy wedding guests on site, they had to get everyone marshalled and moved out immediately.

Staff called every hotel and motel in the surrounding area, calmly broke up the party, got everyone shuttled to Radium – no one drove drunk – and by midnight had all the guests safely sent to new lodgings. Not only that, but they still managed to pull off the weekend’s wedding at nearby Elk Park Ranch. The following weekend was another wedding shuffle from Nipika to a neighbouring location.

“I was amazed by my staff, they literally ran perfect wedding parties under extreme duress,” Nipika patriarch Lyle Wilson comments.

The past three weeks were nail-biting for the Wilson family, who have built Nipika from the ground up over the past 40 years. It is a family-owned and operated resort, with Lyle and his wife Dianne, their son Steven and daughter Marni all working together. Once evacuated, they relied on information from officials and crews on-site for any scrap of news.

“We really were quite scared that a lifetime of work was going to go up in flames as the fire crept closer to us,” says Mr. Wilson. “It was incredibly stressful to just sit in Invermere and not even be able to get within 20 kilometres of the place.”

Mr. Wilson actually called in the lightning-struck fire when it first ignited; he says over-tapped fire crews across the province meant adequate resources were not put on the fire while it was still small.

“They didn’t action it for the first little while; then the screaming hot 39/40 degree weather with winds hit and the fire literally exploded on them,” says Mr. Wilson.

A full contingent of fire crews arrived and got to work quickly after that point; the Wilsons are incredibly grateful for all the effort put in to save their property and surrounding homesteads. Provincial crews built a giant fire guard (essentially a long, wide road) to stop the fire in a set location.

“As an evacuee, as anxious and frustrating and nerve-wracking as it all is, you’ve got to commend the fire service effort,” he comments. “It’s a very tough, grunt-y, no glory job, and when you look at your own facilities at risk and see the effort they put in, it’s difficult to give them enough credit.”

Two crews from the Windermere Valley and Elk Valley fire departments provided structural protection support on-site. Jaffrey Fire Chief Dave Boreen said they were activated by BC Wildfire Service to assist, setting up sprinklers and fire-smart applications as needed. Mr. Boreen confirms Nipika was well-built to withstand fire risks. Metal roofs, concrete foundations, natural fuels like foliage cleared beside buildings, short grass, fire hydrants – all done intentionally to reduce the risk of fires.

Nipika was under evacuation for a total of 19 days. And the Wilsons are grateful there is no evidence of fire damage on their property.

“If you came into Nipika right now, other than the massive fire guards – if you looked at the scenery and the green mountains behind and around us … you would never know there was a forest fire in the neighbourhood,” says Mr. Wilson. “And yet, it was literally within two kilometres of our back boundary.”

Not only were the buildings unharmed, but they saved the entire trail system around Nipika too, an asset too great to lose, Mr. Wilson assures.

“What would Nipika be if that trail system was a burned out fire scar – the whole value of the place is based on the surroundings and settings here, and they made the effort to

protect the whole damned thing,” Mr. Wilson declares.

Considering the resort was closed for three weeks in Nipika’s peak of the summer season, Mr. Wilson says the hit could’ve been worse. They only had one wedding party cancel. They did however lose out on many overnight stays and canoe trip bookings. He says most people understood the reason for the cancellations with a legitimate fire breathing down Nipika’s neck. And financially, Nipika has contingencies for this type of situation.

“If you’re in a nature-based operation, you have to accept that Mother Nature’s still the boss and you just have to anticipate these kinds of interruptions are going to happen,” he says. “We have a contingency fund we don’t touch, specifically saved for the rainy days that Mother Nature sends you.”

The only frustration from the experience was that he would have liked to stay and help defend his property, especially since he has firefighting equipment on the Nipika grounds. However, Mr. Wilson says they will be even better prepared should this happen again.

“We’ve learned a lot from this,” says Mr. Wilson. “But we’re fully back into operation now, and you’d hardly notice there was a fire here.”

Life is back to usual at the mountain resort. Last weekend, after quick work by Nipika staff, the doors opened again for another lucky couple who said their ‘I do’s’ at the iconic Valley resort.

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