Volunteers came to the rescue, but despite their best efforts, they could not save two cabins that were destroyed in a fire on Gambier Island early last Saturday morning.
Stu Watson of the Gambier Fire Equipment Group (GFEG) said his phone rang around 12:15 a.m. Jan. 12 with a plea to bring one of their fire trailers to the scene of the fire in an old waterfront cabin near the east side of Gambier harbour’s dock.
“I called half a dozen experienced volunteers who attend practices regularly and within a short space of time we had a functioning fire trailer on scene,” Watson said in an email sent out to Gambier residents describing the night’s incident.
“We opted to deploy one pump at a small local surface well for a quick start and the other was located down on the beach where the water supply will not run out. But, oh how we wished there had been some large water storage tanks nearby, or some surface (dug, as opposed to drilled) wells with 2,000 to 5,000-gallon capacity. Pumping water off the beach at low tide in the dark is so difficult and injury prone.”
He said dug wells, ponds and water tanks help to speed up response time, reduce injury risk and make the volunteer job a whole lot easier and rewarding.
Watson said the cabins belonged to Owen and Eileen Houston, where the fire started, and then involved a neighbouring cabin belonging to Jack and Sandra Adams.
“Neither we, nor two RCMP constables attending later, found clues to suggest what might have caused the fire to start,” said Watson. “The Adams’ cabin was located close to Houstons’ and on that night was also downwind of it during an onshore breeze that enabled the blaze to jump the gap without difficulty.
“The conflagration was well advanced when the GFEG arrived, but the Houston place appeared to have been 90 per cent destroyed already.”
Watson said the sleeping cabin and outhouse were all still intact, however, and could be saved. Likewise, the Adams’ outbuildings were also unaffected. He said the main problems were the wind and the close proximity of so many buildings on narrow waterfront lots.
“We directed our initial fire hoses to prevent the fire from jumping to the next buildings downwind of the Adam’s cabin, which was already well ablaze,” said Watson. “So the at-risk buildings were now Jack’s workshop, the new Margo Gram/Kevin Pike cabin, followed by the Hollies [Barb Crompton and Gary Peters] and lastly, the wooden Gambier harbour dock.”
He said, had the onshore breeze strengthened, there was little doubt they would have been at risk of losing some or even all these structures.
“Calling for two more fire equipment trailers and a dozen more volunteers might well have prevented that outcome. Happily, as it turned out, the wind speed actually declined, thus enabling us to contain the fire at the Adams cabin,” Watson said.
“My sincere thanks and admiration is directed to those who toiled three hours or more in the cold and the dark — Joe Wright, Bob Ostiguy, Colin and Shirley Bates, Phil Richardson and David Langley. We could have called for more help, but in these difficult overgrown wooded lots, it would have made things more difficult than it already was.”
Watson said both cabins were insured and he was sorry to the Houstons and the Adams for their loss.
“Happily you were insured and we will look forward to seeing a new phoenix rising from both your large piles of ashes,” he said.