'Still in shock': Monte Lake woman loses home, animals in wildfire

'Fire is like a movie'

"There's a lot of beautiful people who have lost their homes."

That's according to Jackie Cooke, a well-known Monte Lake resident who had to flee her community Thursday evening as the White Rock Lake wildfire ripped through.

"I'm probably still in shock," she tells Castanet, adding her home and barn were levelled by the blaze.

Her nearly three-acre property sits next to Highway 97 near Monte Lake. The house is 84 years old and has been in the family since the late 1980s.

Some may recognize it from the documentary Jackieland, which aired at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2016. Cooke is at the centre of the short film, which reveals "a very honest and insightful perspective of humanity — and Jackie herself," states a write-up on IMDB.

On Thursday, Cooke had gone to the Kamloops Costco to fill her 2001 white Chevy pickup with gas. When she returned, crews had shut down the highway. She was able to get through, just in the nick of time to grab her six dogs. Unfortunately, she had to leave her 19 cats, multiple birds, peacocks and chickens behind.

"The gate was on fire, so I kicked the post, went running into the house. The fire was burning my driveway, the whole front of the driveway. The tires were starting to burn on my van," she recalls, noting she has three other vehicles on the property. "The noise [of the fire] was crazy."

Cooke also witnessed a mamma deer try to climb up an embankment.

"It was all beat up. It was scraped and bleeding," she says. "All I could say was, 'Run.'"

The familiar face (Cooke works as a dump manager in Westwold and was often spotted around the area handing freezies to firefighters) booked it out of there, eventually arriving in Vernon to stay with her partner.

She remembers seeing many people on the side of the road taking pictures and staring at the inferno.

"I've seen grown men with their mouths open, going, 'I don’t believe this.' It was very horrifying.

"The fire is like a movie they're making now. We're living a friggin' nightmare."

Cooke's brother, Kevin, had been trying to get in touch with his sister since Thursday night. After hearing nothing, the Alberta resident took his quest to Facebook, where he asked friends and neighbours if they knew anything about Cooke's whereabouts.

"Her cellphone died. She didn't have her charger. She was missing in action," he says.

Around 4 a.m. Friday, messages starting coming in that his sibling was safe.

"Life is irreplaceable and the things we lost is just material," he tells Castanet, giving thanks to all of Cooke's neighbours who care for her and the firefighters who are giving it their all on the frontlines.

Cooke isn't sure what's left of her home or the animals left behind, what she calls "a magical place." Sadly, she has no insurance. She was in the process of getting a policy, but then the fire broke out. Kevin has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her get back on her feet.

She tells Castanet the people of Monte Lake, Westwold and the surrounding area will persevere. It's a tight-knit community that's been through the horrors of wildfire season before.

"Everybody is so close. ... There's a piece of everyone of those people in my heart. If you ever lived in that community, you wouldn't want to go anywhere else. I don't need to take a holiday."

More Kamloops News