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Cold weather blamed for rash of fires
The recent record-low temperatures have meant an increase in the use of auxiliary heat sources, which used improperly can be a recipe for disaster.
Case in point was a Monday morning fire in a soft-shell structure at a Holden Road property, believed to have been ignited by a make-shift, wood-fired heater.
While the three-alarm blaze was contained to the small workshop, the situation could have been far worse, according to Chief Wayne Williams of Penticton Fire Rescue.
“The first-in crews actually saw what looked like a tornado flame coming from the top of the structure going right toward the house,” said Williams. “Had there been vinyl siding on the house instead of stucco it might have been a different story, they were very lucky.”
Complicating the efforts of firefighters were strong south winds pushing the flames dangerously close to the large home just meters away.
According to Williams there was a wood stove on the exterior of the out building and a home-made fan to push the heat into the interior.
“The way it was hooked up and the way it was installed wasn’t totally correct,” he said. “There was either a malfunction in the fan and it just heated up so much the structure caught fire or the fan actually sucked flame through.”
Although there were two people at the residence at the time, neither were inside the structure when the fire started.
Along with the structure, a vehicle being worked on inside was destroyed. The house sustained some smoke damage but the residents were allowed back in later in the day.
A total of 21 firefighters responded.
“When the weather gets like this people use heaters and fireplaces more to try and save fuel costs,” said Williams. “The heaters are safe as long as they are used as per the manufacturers instructions such as keeping materials a certain distance away and not leaving them unattended.”
During past weeks fire departments throughout the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen have been responding to chimney fires an average of almost one a day.
Penticton crews were also called to one of those Monday.
Meanwhile, the rash of fires in the Cawston and Keremeos areas continued with a fast-spreading blaze which totally destroyed a Barcelo Road home in Cawston Friday morning.
The three people in the building, owners George 83 and Marlene, 79, Mysel and their son, Bryan Horrocks who lives next door, managed to escape along with the couple’s dog.
Bryan’s wife Cindy, who also helped during the emergency, said afterwards the situation could have turned deadly if it were not for the timing.
“The scary thing is we were supposed to take George to Kelowna and Marlene’s been having lots of problems with her arthritis and she was going to lay back down so if she’d gone back and fallen asleep it would have overwhelmed her before she realized what was going on,” said Cindy. “Twenty minutes later and it might have been too late.”
Bryan was actually the one who first noticed the fire while having coffee with his parents.
“He heard a pop and a crackling and thought what the heck is that so he pulled open the garage door and saw the fire going up the wall in the corner and then he went over and there was a space in the ceiling where he could see into the attic and he looked up and it was just rolling flames,” said Cindy. “So he ran back into the house and said, ‘Come you guys, get out, we’ve got a fire,’ and then it was just a matter of minutes. We got the dog out, we got them out, he threw the clothes out the window and within 10 minutes she was totally involved.”
No one was injured and the displaced couple are currently staying in the Horrocks’s basement suite.
When the Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department arrived, the building was fully engulfed.
They got here very quickly but it was just too late,” said Cindy.
“They worked all day and even when they knew they couldn’t save it they still did everything they could."
The exact cause of the fire is unknown, however it is believed to be accidental.