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Community mourns the loss of a little boy
The unfortunate death of 11-year-old Richard Fehr of Christina Lake at summer camp weighs heavily on the small community of Grand Forks as they clean up in the wake of storm-force winds that ripped through the area on Friday.
Richard Fehr, on vacation at Pines Bible Camp, was getting ready for dinner after playing at the beach when the tree crushed his cabin. He sustained serious injuries and was medi-vaced by helicopter to Boundary hospital where he later died.
The cabin leader who was with him at the time escaped the building collapse with minor injuries, showing extreme courage and wisdom, said Gene Krahn, executive director for the camp.
“The storm caught us off guard, some people described it as a tornado, but it wasn’t,” explained Krahn. “(Richard) was a wonderful little boy; he’s been to camp before. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family in this time of loss. It’s very unfortunate, very tragic loss.”
Fehr, who lived at Christina Lake but attended Hutton Elementary school in Grand Forks, was known as a happy, caring, helpful boy by teachers and friends. Having just completed one of his best school years, Richard had his eyes set on becoming a computer technician. He loved his family, especially his grandmother who had been teaching him some Italian on his regular visits.
Pines camp, located 10 kilometres north of Grand Forks, was hit around 5 p.m. Friday by the wind storm that snapped large trees like toothpicks. Witnesses say that most of the trees in the camp’s main cabin area came down in the wind event that volunteer weather observers clocked at 110 kph.
The falling trees and debris barraged buildings while staff rushed to help the 65 campers to safety. Only a few minor injuries occurred to other campers during the storm, said Krahn.
“I am just so proud of my staff, they handled themselves very well, they followed emergency protocols perfectly and handled the kids well, kept them safe,” said Krahn.
With the power on site out, the staff of Pines Camp stayed with the children until buses could come to pick them up. They were shuttled to the Gospel Chapel church in Grand Forks where they waited for their parents to pick them up.
Victim’s services were on hand at the church to provide support for the children, staff and families. They were available again on Saturday and by telephone to assist with grieving.
“Everybody you talk to in this community is completely shocked,” said regional director for Christina Lake, Grace McGregor. “We’re always surprised when someone so young passes, and when it’s a tragic accident it’s so sudden that everybody is just looking at how they can help. We are devastated about it. The whole community is in sympathy with the family.”
Christina Lake lost their power for about 24 hours, but the damage overall was not as severe as in the Grand Forks area.
The damage along the North Fork valley may take days before it will be fully resolved with some locations still without power. FortisBC, city, police and highways crews have been working round the clock to restore power and clear roads.
Campers come to Pines, operating since 1963, for summer vacation from the Fraser Valley, the Okanagan through to Creston and Cranbrook.
There has been an outpouring of support and sympathy on the camp’s Facebook page.
“We are shocked and saddened to see the damage to this beautiful camp that has had such a powerful positive influence on so many kids (including our kids over the years) and staff,” said Adeline Neufeld on the page. “This is such a huge blow to the community. We are praying for all those involved, especially, Gene and Vicky Krahn and for the family of the 11-year-old boy that lost his life.”
The overwhelming damage will take time to repair, said Krahn. Mostly trees landed on buildings, and only a couple fully collapsed.
“Unfortunately we’ll have to close the camp for the remainder of the summer season,” Krahn added. “It’s very sad. We have about 1400 campers that come through every year. We’re assessing the damages right now and looking at how we can tackle the clean up process.”
Photos of the damages are on the camp’s Facebook site along with a link for how people can donate to assist in the rebuilding.
The B.C. Coroner’s office is leading the investigation into the accident with assistance from the Grand Forks RCMP detachment.