A blaze that engulfed two homes in the Painter-Barclay area of Campbell River June 29 presented challenging conditions for fire crews due to the speed with which it spread and the impact of high ambient temperatures on the firefighters.
With the thermometer in the mid-30s, Campbell River Fire Rescue was called out to Barclay Road around 1:40 p.m. to a fire that initially started in a RV but which quickly spread to adjacent houses.
“Our dispatch centre received multiple 911 calls reporting initially what looked to be an RV on fire next to a home and then subsequent reports where the RV exploded and the home was also on fire,” Fire Chief Thomas Doherty said. “When crews were responding to the scene we were updated that the fire had spread to a second home.”
When crews arrived at the scene one home was fully engaged and a second home adjacent to it had fire in the roof.
Neighbourhood resident Jane Toso was sitting in her living room when a loud bang rattled the windows, she said.
“I jumped up and opened the front door when there was a second bang. It sounded like a gun shot so I hesitated but when I looked up, I could see a large flame and black smoke seemingly coming from the house directly across the street. It was actually the house behind that on Barclay.”
“Many people had called 911 so the (fire) trucks arrived pretty quickly. It looked like it was very hard to control and quickly spread to the next house. It was very sad and scary to watch,” Toso said. “I am so thankful for our fire department working so hard to ensure the fire didn’t go farther.”
Doherty said fire crews had to deal with hydro lines down and natural gas and propane issues as well. Lines were quickly deployed to protect two other homes from exposure to the fire and then attention was turned to suppressing the blaze. Initially, firefighters were advised that not all occupants of the homes were accounted for and so began planning for a rescue. It was soon verified, however, that everyone had escaped the fire unharmed.
Doherty agreed it was an intense fire that spread quickly and that is a bit of a trend with fire calls.
“We’re starting to see that trend where these homes are going up really quickly and this one here, obviously, with the explosions, it was a quick moving fire. There was heavy (firefighter) involvement right off the bat. But it is something we’re noticing the last few years is these homes are really going up faster,” Doherty said.
That trend can be attributed to construction materials being used these days with a lot more petroleum-based products and synthetics and “it really spreads fast,” Doherty said.
Another factor is the time of year and people leaving their windows open to deal with higher temperatures. That introduces ventilation and more air fueling the fire.
The heat of the day also speeds things up a little bit, Doherty said. And it doesn’t make things easier for firefighters either.
Campbell River Fire Rescue “exhausted all their resources” and had to call in Oyster Fire Department to help cover off the city while 31 firefighters were involved in the Barclay Road fire.
In addition, BC Ambulance crews around the province are also struggling to keep up with the sheer number of calls boosted by the heat and so weren’t immediately available to help fire crews at the scene. It is standard procedure for BC Emergency Health Services paramedics to attend fires to help fire crews sub each other on and off. The paramedics provide rehab services monitoring firefighters and providing them with oxygen, hydration and any first aid needed before they go back into a fire again.
“With BC Ambulance being as busy as they are, they weren’t available to assist us at the scene for quite some time. They did show up eventually. So that was a bit concerning, not having them on site with us to look after our firefighters, should we have needed them,” Doherty said.
Paramedics did arrive and a rehab centre was set up with fans, water and food onsite and a neighbour even provided a sprinkler system to help cool the area down.
A fire truck was left on the scene until the evening to put out any hotspots with crews returning throughout the night to check on it.
Doherty said he was not surprised that neighbours heard some loud bangs during the fire. He attributed them to propane tanks, vehicle tires and natural gas lines exploding throughout the fire.
“There was a lot of pops and bangs going on,” Doherty said.
Investigators were on the scene June 30 to determine a cause and would be focusing on the area around the RV.