In less than an hour, years of hard work went up in smoke for the Swanepoel family.
Since immigrating to Canada from South Africa in 2008, the family built a successful tilapia and vegetable farm about an half an hour east of High River, Alta.
They were at a nearby farmers market on Aug. 1 when they got a call from RCMP that would turn their lives upside down.
“Everything was gone,” Gerrit Swanepoel said. “Nothing left. No opportunity to go in and grab that one thing and get back out.”
Swanepoel’s home burned to the ground and the inside of the farm buildings were flooded when the fire caused water systems to be compromised.
“It wasn’t just Gerrit’s home, it also served as our operating office and meeting rooms,” Swanepoel’s mother, Anna, explained. “You don’t realize what there was in it until you actually need it to operate. Simple things like a barcode printer and laptop.”
The heat from the fire also melted Gerrit’s truck beyond repair.
What’s more, the new insurance policy he’d bought wasn’t set to kick in until three days after the fire.
“We had all the breeding colonies at the house and also my incubation system that we custom-designed,” Gerrit said. “We had about 38 breeding colonies in there. They were the ones that actually supplied the fish to the main building.
“We lost it all.”
Thankfully, neighbours were quick to help while the family struggled to come to terms with the loss.
One group lent the Swanepoels an RV so they could stay at the farm while they evaluated the damage.
Others came forward with farming and construction equipment to help start repairs immediately.
It’s the second time the Swanepoels have had to start over.
After farming in South Africa for 40 years, the family had to give up their land as part of the country’s land reforms.
The family said they’ve been told a charging electronic device could be responsible for last Thursday’s blaze.
Beware when charging your phone or tablet
While the loss still stings, they’re ready to move forward, bent but unbroken.
“We’re not going to let this disaster put us back,” Anna said. “We’re very adamant to make a success of this and grow it big and produce for Alberta.”
The family is already trying to rebuild as best they can.
New water lines are being installed over the long weekend. Within two weeks, they hope to welcome hundreds of tourists as part of a stop on the Alberta Open Farm Days tour.
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