Trees falling on campers' tents, but no warning from B.C. Parks

Less than two weeks after a Kamloops woman warned about trees falling on campers' tents at Murtle Lake, a Kaslo woman died from exactly that.

The B.C. Coroners Service has named 66-year-old Alice Bernice Gilbert as the woman whose tent was crushed by a 38-metre high tree that fell on her tent.

Coroner Barb McLintock said Monday that Gilbert was camping with family and friends at Murtle Lake in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The tree came down at 5 a.m. Friday.

The Coroners Service and RCMP are still investigating the death.

Cathy Turnbull Spence was camping at Site 10 at Murtle Lake with her kids and some other families a week and a half before Gilbert.

A storm on the morning of Aug. 4 sent many from the group into their tents. But when the wind blew over a tent and some of the fathers heard a loud crack, the tents were evacuated. Thirty seconds later, the top half of a tree slammed into two tents and one of the canoes.

Turnbull-Spence said Monday when she heard about Gilbert's death, her own narrow brush with trees falling only centimentres away from her own tent at Murtle Lake returned.

"I felt really shaky and ran out to tell my son. I could hardly talk to him at first," she said.

That another family has suffered a worse fate hit her hard.

"I feel really badly for this lady. I'm sure the family, it's a really traumatic experience to go through."

Although the park employees she spoke with after the incident were aware falling trees were a hazard in the area, there were no signs posted to warn visitors when she was there, she said.

"I went in and out and would have passed everything twice," she said.

"From my experience, no signage. I didn't know anything about weak trees."

The B.C. Parks website does have a caution from August 2010 advising about a hazard from dead trees at Murtle Lake. But Turnbull Spence wondered if people check the site or if they would take the warning seriously.

"Even with a note, I would have thought the risk was fairly low. But after having made the trip, the risk is too high," she said.

She also wanted to emphasize that the tree that fell on her group was green and alive, not a dead pine-beetle killed tree. She said staff explained that the pine-beetle trees have been removed, but the other trees lean on them and are thereby weakened with the pines gone.

"What bothered me is this problem is known. My thought was, if they know it, then people should know it if they go into that area," she said.

"The tree that just missed us was a live tree. It cracked right in half. The people up there know there's a problem."

Murtle Lake is a popular spot for canoers and kayakers. It's quiet because no motorized boats are allowed and hearing loons is common, she said.

But with unstable trees there, she questioned whether anyone should be allowed to camp nearby.

"I loved it there. It's beautiful, but I would not risk taking my kids there. There's no way," she said.

"It went through my head, if it happened at night, you wouldn't know which way to run. The risk is way too high for me to go there."

A spokesperson for B.C. Parks or the Ministry of Environment did not return calls by deadline. The Daily News also wrote a story about Turnbull Spence's experience on Aug. 7 and calls were not returned from the ministry at that time.

Turnbull Spence said even before the tree fell on the tents, there was a clue of the instability.

"That morning before the tree fell down, my son was at the outhouse and came running back, "Mom a tree just fell down,' " she said.

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