Two homes in the Lake Cowichan area have been hit with devastating fires this week, both within less than 48 hours.
The first incident occurred Tuesday afternoon at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Lake Boulevard in Youbou. The second took place Wednesday evening at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Skutz Falls Road, less than a kilometre from Highway 18.
Neither fire claimed the lives of occupants, however, both homes were destroyed.
On Tuesday, Youbou Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Lake Cowichan RCMP were called to a three-storey lakefront property that was completely engulfed in flames.
The home’s single occupant escaped without injury, as did her small dog.
The dog was found by a neighbour the following morning.
“The house itself was completely on fire from the water side, so fire [service] was there for quite some time to put it out,” said RCMP Cpl. Travis Strong.
Strong said that in speaking to the homeowner and to neighbours, police do not believe the fire was suspicious in nature.
“Right now we still have to do a little bit of follow-up but we understand it originated with just a wood-burning fire place,” he said. “The good thing is it’s a close-knit neighbourhood so the neighbours are helping to take care of her… It’s just a very unfortunate thing to have happen.”
On Wednesday, Lake Cowichan Volunteer Fire Department and other detachments from around the lake were called to the scene of another structure fire, this time a mobile home.
Lake Cowichan fire chief Doug Knott said a number of factors made it a challenging fire to fight, most significantly the condition of the property which was filled with a number of obstacles like smaller mobile trailers, a boat, cars and other stored belongings.
“It was a mobile with a bunch of other stuff around it. It was fairly hard to get at… because of the stuff that was in the way. There was a lot of stuff on the property.”
“Please make [your property] accessible. This really hampered our ability. We have large equipment, we need to be able to get in.”
Crews were on the scene until 1 a.m. and ultimately had to bring in a backhoe to dismantle the burnt trailer, which is now completely gone.
Knott said the home had a single female occupant and there were no injuries. He said the fire was most likely started by a wood burning appliance of some kind, which are a common cause of house fires this time of year.
“[Stoves and heaters] work harder and it’s very important that appliances have to be serviced and checked and make sure they’re safe,” he said. “That would be the biggest message if you are using wood heat right now or any other sources of heat, make sure they’re safe. Have them checked, have them cleaned.”
The below-zero temperatures Wednesday night made the work of fire crews especially difficult because everything on the property quickly froze.
Knott also said the property was uninsured.
“So she lost everything without being insured,” he said.
Sybille Sanderson, the CVRD’s emergency program coordinator, was on-scene at both fires this week. She could not provide details about either victim’s condition, but did outline some of the services provided by her department (which administers a provincial emergency program).
“We can provide up to 72 hours of food, clothing, lodging. If they need it, it’s always based on need obviously, it just depends if they have a place to stay,” said Sanderson.
Her department can provide victims with a referral so they can access clothing and groceries, enough to tide them over until they get on their feet again. Sanderson’s department can also provide them with some incidentals such as personal hygiene items or some pet supplies if they have a pet.
Emergency social services does not accept donations of clothing or furniture because the department can easily “end up with a huge pile of unnecessary items” that staff is then tasked with disposing of. She also said until a victim has a new home or living arrangement, it’s not clear just what kinds of donations they’re going to need.
“In the Lake Cowichan area they’re going to be looking to assist these folks. I think that’s great,” said Sanderson.
No community members or organizations have yet said they are accepting or coordinating donations for either fire victim, however area residents have taken to social media to express their desire to help out if they can.
Sanderson said 2016 has been a busy year for her department.
“We’ve had 20 this year. So we’ve had a lot of house fires this year. That’s higher than normal for us,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly what that is all about, but certainly we’ve had a lot of house fires.”
She also echoed Knott’s advice about checking heating appliances, stoves and chimneys now that cold winter weather is here. She said it’s important that residents make sure there’s nothing leaning up against heat sources that could potentially catch fire.