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Photos of property show extensive damage to Monte Lake family home

Funds are being raised to help the Cooke family rebuild.

Three days after the White Rock Lake wildfire swept through Monte Lake, Kevin Cooke — an Alberta man whose sister was evacuated from the area — was finally able to see photos of the wreckage that was their family home.

Cooke said in the aftermath of the fire, he posted on a Monte Lake social media page, asking if anyone still inside the evacuated zone could send him pictures and put some cat food out for the animals left behind.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Cooke said, recalling the moment when he saw the pictures for the first time.

“My full response to this was just total shock.”

He said he knew the fire was encroaching on the 84-year-old house and property as his sister Jackie Cooke was leaving. Firefighters helped her load her six dogs into a vehicle.

In an earlier interview, Jackie told Castanet she had gone to the Kamloops Costco to fill up her vehicle with gas, and by the time she returned, crews had shut down the highway.

She was able to get through, but had to leave her 19 cats, multiple exotic birds, peacocks and chickens behind.

“The fire was burning my driveway, the whole front of the driveway. The tires were starting to burn on my van,” she said.

“The noise of the fire was crazy.”

Cooke said having heard Jackie's experience he “knew it was going to be bad,” but was surprised the fire spread so far and so destructively throughout the property.

“My motorhome was on top of the hill where the main photo was taken of the whole property, and I didn’t think it would go all the way up there. She lives right on the lake," he said.

Cooke said a wildfire had threatened the property back in 2017, but at that time, firefighters were able to put it out quickly.

“They put [it] out in three minutes. This time, they got caught with their pants down. I know they got a lot going on, there’s so many other fires to worry about, but there were five or six fire trucks up the road, just sitting on the side of the road. Not one of them came and responded to it.”

Cooke said aside from Jackie’s animals, their main concern is finding their mother’s ashes, which were left behind.

“Jackie had everything ready to go. All she needed was five minutes to load everything, and get the birds out of the house. That was it. They wouldn't let her. Well, you've got to go from their side too, of course they were trying to save her life,” he said.

According to Cooke, they are trying to get a permit for Jackie — who is staying with a friend in the Vernon area — to enter the evacuated zone, but he has been having difficulty connecting with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD).

Jackie has also had difficulties, due to not having access to a reliable cellphone.

Castanet has reached out to the TNRD for comment on the matter.

Cooke said the two of them are hoping to raise money through an online fundraiser to get Jackie a trailer so she can eventually return to the Monte Lake property.

As of Thursday morning, they have raised $7,257 of their $25,000 goal.

“I'm hoping we can make enough money through that GoFundMe and get her a trailer, a decent trailer, and pay for a bulldozer to come in and just push everything out of the way,” he said.

“We got to go find mom's ashes and we have to do a thorough check for the animals we lost, and we want to bury them properly.”

Cooke said they had been working to get insurance for the property, paperwork that needed to be completed after their mom died, leaving them the home. However, the process wasn’t completed by the time the fire swept through the area.

“We're just in the middle of getting the insurance, and then we had some repairs we had to do, so Jackie spent her entire savings,” he said.

“We got the house ready to go and then the bloody White Rock fire started and that was it, they wouldn't cover us.”

Ultimately, Cooke said the government needs to start taking serious action on climate change, as wildfire seasons seem to be getting worse.

He said he sometimes wonders if it’s worth rebuilding, being that the area has been hit by fire twice in the past four years.

“Are we going to get hit again? Is it even worth rebuilding there? I don’t know where we go from here, but where do we go?”