“Forty years of history down the drain,” said Mr. Heer on Friday, November 23rd as fire hoses blasted the charred remnants of his iconic home and business, The Home Of A Thousand Faces.
“I don’t know how I’m going to handle this,” he said as he shivered and pulled on a pink fuzzy housecoat, one of the few items he was able to save before his home burned to a crisp. “I might be crying for three weeks.”
Mr. Heer said he had a fire outside the night before that must have gotten out of control. In the morning, Gary and Sherry Froescul who were visiting from Sherwood Park, Alberta drove past Mr. Heer’s home on their way to the Radium Hot Springs pools. They were disappointed to find that the pools weren’t open when they arrived, so they returned to Radium.
Ms. Froescul noticed a fire as they passed by the landmark again. She wasn’t sure if it was a normal fire. Neither was Mr. Froescul, who had been a firefighter for 18 years before he retired.
“It looked like it was going where it wasn’t supposed to go,” he said.
They went to the Petro-Canada and one of the employees called 911. By then, they said, the fire had doubled in size.
Mr. Froescul said “a young guy” went into the house and came out with Mr. Heer.
Firefighters were on the scene so fast it seemed like only 30 seconds had passed since the call was placed. The blaze at the all-wood building kept growing.
“Within five or 10 minutes the whole thing was engulfed,” Mr. Froescul said.
Holly Hahn, who stood bearing witness in somber solidarity with Mr. Heer’s friends and neighbours, said her boyfriend called and told her there were “1,000 foot flames” coming from Mr. Heer’s home.
“Rolf’s my friend. All these people, they’re my family,” she said. “It’s devastating for the entire community.”
It was also devastating for her children, who cried when she told them the Radium woodcarver’s home had gone up in smoke.
“There was nothing like this in the world,” she said. “I’m sad for all the children who used to come here.”
Mr. Heer lived in his showroom. For 40 years he had welcomed residents and tourists into his home to see his wood carvings, play in his outdoor water park and feed the goats that lived on his roof. Inside his home, notes from the children who loved Mr. Heer like their favourite fairytale character come to life disappeared into ash. So did nearly all of his worldly possessions, except for a few paintings, his robes, a bit of cash and his prized wizard hats.
Mr. Heer, who has terminal cancer and was hoping to find a woodcarver to take over the business, had no insurance on his place that was wooden from floor to ceiling, including the clocks.
He alternated between laughing and choking up as neighbours, friends, police and firefighters expressed their condolences, doled out hugs and brought him food.
But the beloved wizard was all smiles as he asked for a photo to capture the end of an era going out with a blaze.