West Chilcotin lodge owner continues to battle Gatcho Lake wildfire

Eliguk Lake Lodge owner Arön Toland has been fighting the Gatcho Lake fire solo for the last five days. He sent this photo to his wife Jennifer who evacuated with their four dogs to Fort St. James. (Arön Toland photo)
Using a chainsaw and shovel Arön Toland has been trying to do some fire mitigation in the forests near Eliguk Lake Lodge which he owns with his wife Jennifer. (Arön Toland photo)
A Con Air RJ-85 airtanker drops retardant at Eliguk Lake Lodge Tuesday, July 11, as the Gatcho Lake Fire moved closer to the property. (Eliguk Lake Lodge video image capture)A Con Air RJ-85 airtanker drops retardant at Eliguk Lake Lodge Tuesday, July 11, as the Gatcho Lake Fire moved closer to the property. (Eliguk Lake Lodge video image capture)
Smoke is present as the Gatcho Lake fire is only under a kilometre Eliguk Lake Lodge. (Arön Toland photo)

Man against nature has been the reality for a wilderness lodge owner in the West Chilcotin who continues to battle a portion of the Gatcho Lake Cluster fire on his own.

Arön Toland at Eliguk Lake Lodge, 40 km from the nearest neighbour, has been on his own for five days straight.

He’s put out a half-mile of wildfire with a shovel and a chainsaw.

“It’s Arön and he alone that saved our place,” his wife Jennifer told the Tribune Wednesday from Fort St. James where she and their four dogs are staying with friends..

Unfortunately Arön ‘s shovel broke but before that he managed to quell fires along the east side of the lake, to stop the flames from reaching the big timber behind Eliguk, she said.

The Tolands purchased the lodge seven years ago and have had fires in proximity since then.

This time, however, wildfire has come closer than those other fires.

Discovered on July 6, by July 10 the Gatcho Lake Fire was about 10 km away from the lodge. By the next day, a portion of the fire had jumped and was only two kilometers away.

An airtanker arrived to lay retardant down as a fire guard that afternoon and by night the Tolands escaped with food to a barge on Eliguk Lake to sleep.

Up until then their lodge was not under an alert. The Cariboo Regional District issued an evacuation order on Tuesday, July 11 at 7:40 p.m.

Deciding she should leave with their dogs, Arön drove Jennifer to Fort St. James to stay with some friends.

He returned to the lodge alone where he has been ever since.

“He’s just sleeping in short shifts and keeps checking for wind speed and the ‘glow’ in the distance,” Jennifer said. “He has to travel by boat to the west end of Eliguk to see the progress of the fire encroaching. If the wind picks up again, it won’t be safe to go by quad to try and fight it. He is keeping the resort wet down and if no one’s coming to put the fire out while it’s manageable, it’s all he can do now.”

As of July 18, the Gatcho fire is estimated to be 4,306 hectares.

The Cariboo Fire Centre has now assumed control of the fire. which was under the Prince George Fire Centre previously.

READ MORE: West Chilcotin wilderness lodge owners eye Gatcho Complex Fire 10 km away

READ MORE: West Chilcotin lodge owners escape to lake barge as wildfire approaches


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