A lightning strike on Gambier Island burned down the dining hall at Camp Fircom last week, but the damage could have been much worse, said a spokesman for the United Church of Canada camp.
“Fortunately we had some wonderful neighbours on the island who helped with the fire prevention effort, so staff and neighbours stopped it from spreading,” said Rich Overgaard, chair of the Camp Fircom Society’s board of directors.
“It’s remarkable, absolutely remarkable that it was contained to the dining hall.”
The fire occurred during a major lightning storm that hit the region late Thursday, Aug. 29. The camp had wrapped up for the summer season and no children were on the site.
During the storm, Overgaard said, “staff reported some very close lightning strikes. They evacuated some of the cabins and hunkered down for the night.”
Several hours later, between 5 and 6 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 30, staff discovered the dining hall was on fire.
“By the time it was discovered it was already fully engulfed,” Overgaard said.
Staff and neighbours contained the blaze with “a very homegrown firefighting system” that included hoses attached to the camp’s water tanks and small gas engines.
More neighbours arrived during the day Friday to continue hosing down the perimeter.
On top of the fire suppression efforts, the heavy downpour that came with the lightning storm “really helped” prevent it from spreading further, Overgaard said.
The loss, however, is a serious one for the camp, which reopened in 2010 after a five-year closure.
“We’d just gone through a really large reno with the help of the United Church of Canada, so that dining room was only four years old,” Overgaard said.
The building could seat up to 185 people and included the camp’s kitchen.
“It really was the core building on site in terms of gathering,” he said. “So it’s a big hit for us. We’ve got some rental groups coming up that we’ll have to be creative with.”
There’s a lot at stake for the camp, he added. “We had a lot of momentum after the reopening, so we want to keep that.”
The building was insured, he said, but unexpected cleanup costs and other expenses will have to be covered. An emergency fund has been set up and online donations can be made at fircom.ca/get-involved/donate/.
Camp officials are also calling for a fire committee to be established for the island to ensure a fire of similar magnitude does not have more devastating consequences.
“Those are issues we have to look at going forward, because the population of Gambier is growing, and this could have been a lot worse,” Overgaard said.
Camp Fircom is located on the southeast corner of Gambier Island and borders Halkett Bay Provincial Park. It was established in 1923.