Andrea DeMeer When fire swept through his property last July, George Laska was able to save part of this sign from the Laska Flooring showroom. It hangs today on the family’s woodshed as a reminder of what was lost, and what is being rebuilt.

This B.C. family is still fighting the 2017 wildfire

“I couldn’t run away and leave everything again”

When a family is used to facing adversity on its own, accepting help can produce overwhelming feelings.

So it is with the Laskas, who are rebuilding their business and property that were destroyed in the summer’s wildfire.

“It’s so hard,” said Irena Laska, through tears. “You feel so humbled. You feel so thankful, but you feel so bad.”

The family has operated Laska’s Flooring in the Princeton area since 1997, and nine years ago moved the business from town to their acreage on Summer’s Creek Road. No stranger to disasters, they lost their first downtown storefront when a truck drove through the front window, and had to give up a second location after someone died in an adjacent rental with consequences that left the building uninhabitable.

“We got fed up and moved the business up here,” said George Laska.

The business, including a showroom and workshop, burned to the ground July 7, 2017 when fire consumed their property, destroying numerous other outbuildings and coming just feet from the house.

The fire, when it came, “sounded just like a train and then it swallowed us up.”

Reluctantly, Irena evacuated but George refused to leave his land, home and animals.

“Not unless my eyebrows were on fire,” he said.

“I couldn’t run away and leave everything again.” That sentiment has deep meaning for this family.

Related: Climate adaptation needed, B.C. auditor general says

Related: Police continue to investigate Elephant Hill wildfire

The Laskas fled Czechoslovakia almost 30 years ago. Under Communist government watch for refusing to vote in a predetermined election, they feared for their safety and for the future of their three children.

In order to get out of the country they had to pretend they were taking part in a government sanctioned holiday to Yugoslavia. As part of the subterfuge they could carry little money, and none of their possessions.

“We came to Canada with three children and $200.”

Every member of the family contributed to the building of the Laska home, in which they take great pride. George cut the trees from their own land, and pulled them with horses. The couple now looks fondly at pictures of Irena and the kids – there were eventually five – stripping bark off the logs and operating equipment.

“It’s easy building a house if you have money, but building it without money – that shows who you are,” said George.

When they moved the business to the same piece of land, they were unable to reasonably purchase insurance because of the previous claims and the property’s distance from fire protection.

“I made a decision and decided to live with the consequences,” said George.

The consequences turned out to be between $130,000 and $150,000 of uninsured losses last summer.

George and his son were able to save some of the business’s stock, but they lost tools and the showroom, equipment and several vehicles.

In the fall George sold timber from a portion of their property to help pay for the rebuilding, and that was when Tri-Valley Construction Limited stepped in. The company was logging in the area and cleared and shipped the Laskas’ trees. They even left some equipment behind so George and his son could raise the walls of the new workshop.

Parkes Construction, the company that built the original showroom then turned up, rescheduling other jobs to help George, and offering to defer payment until the family is able to afford it.

“They just said ‘don’t worry about it for now.’ I couldn’t believe it…They do very high quality work. They are booked ahead for two years.”

The Laskas also said they could not have managed without the help of neighbour Paul Beregovoy, who assisted the family with food, money and physical labour in the days and even months following the fire.

“I would like to thank him for this,” said George.

Laska Flooring continues to operate and the couple hopes that this year they can complete their new showroom.

“And we just want to say thank you. We don’t know how. But we want this to be about thanking these people.”

Related: Fires used to be much more common according to UBC research

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andrea.demeer@similkameenspotlight.com

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