Lovingly and painstakingly carved out of the rugged Chilcotin wilderness more than 80 years ago, the legendary Edwards homestead on Lonesome Lake is no more, friends of the family said yesterday.
A slow-moving forest fire that has suddenly flared into a raging inferno in recent days claimed the rustic log home pioneer Ralph Edwards built in the early 1920s, the barn and several outbuildings.
"The original homestead is gone, burnt totally to the ground," said Terry Brandt, a friend of the homestead's lone occupant, 77-year-old John Edwards, the son of Ralph Edwards.
Mr. Brandt, a retired float plane operator who put Mr. Edwards up on Sunday night, said the tough old homesteader barely managed to escape the flames as they drew close to his remote dwelling.
"He told me the fire was within a few feet of him and 300 feet high when the helicopter came to take him out, and he told me that his place was gone."
Mr. Brandt said another historic homestead nearby, established by Ralph Edwards's daughter Trudy, was also wiped out by the fire, which has been racing through the southern reaches of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in northwestern British Columbia.
Ralph and Trudy Edwards became famous for their efforts to save a dwindling population of endangered trumpeter swans that wintered on Lonesome Lake, packing in 45-kilogram sacks of barley on horseback to feed them.
A bestselling book, Crusoe of Lonesome Lake, chronicled the heartwarming story, which struck an emotional chord particularly among schoolchildren throughout North America and Europe. Ralph Edwards was also the subject of several documentaries and appeared on the U.S. television program This Is Your Life.
John Edwards has carried on the family tradition of embracing wildlife, meticulously detailing and filming activities of the many small animals around the homestead.
Worried by the approaching flames, Mr. Edwards made at least five trips in and out of the area, packing out his priceless journals, videos and keepsakes.
Each trek for the white-bearded loner required about 10 hours of water travel and hiking to and from a site described as one of the most remote homesteads in Canada.
His final trip in took place Friday, as he prepared to make a last stand with the animals he loved and fight off the fire, if possible. But he agreed to be flown out when the situation became extremely dangerous.
Forest Service officials have not yet confirmed the loss of the Edwards homestead, declining even to identify the famous site in a news release yesterday.
The statement said the Lonesome Lake/Turner Lake blaze began to display "extreme fire behaviour" on Saturday, forcing the removal of crews assigned to protect "a private lot on the southeast shore of Lonesome Lake."
The release confirmed the loss of "one structure, but preliminary information does not indicate the type of structure that was lost," adding that the size of the fire is now 3,700 hectares and beginning to threaten several small communities in the Chilcotins.
Late yesterday, the office of the fire commissioner issued an evacuation order to residents of Charlotte Lake, a resort community east of Tweedsmuir Park.
But Mr. Brandt said there is no doubt that none of the Edwards's buildings survived. "There's nothing left. All the buildings were in the tall timber. The house and the barn were imbedded right in the trees," he said in a telephone interview from Nimpo Lake.
"There's no way to rebuild, either. There's no more green, no trees. It's not practical."
Mr. Brandt said Mr. Edwards is furious that forest fire officials did not attack the blaze earlier, when it was a manageable size.
And he shares Mr. Edwards's anger. "It's terrible to lose that homestead, but there was no reason to lose it. I flew over that fire early on and it could have been put out by some guys with a chainsaw and a bit of water. But it was in the park and they wouldn't let anyone touch it."