East Wellington firefighters on scene at a property on Webster Road during the early-morning hours of March 7. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

Fire is catching, but firefighters have us covered

This month has been challenging for firefighters in the region

Nanaimo isn’t on fire, but it’s seemed that way this month.

March has been challenging so far for firefighters in the region, and I witnessed a lot of it first-hand the last two weeks. Manning the news desk at night was especially eventful, as I covered three serious house fires over a span of five days.

The worst was a fire on Webster Road in East Wellington, where the flames shot so high that as I drove along Jingle Pot Road toward the scene, it was easy to see, up on the hillside, the sky glowing orange over the treetops. The homeowners, covered in soot, stood watching as a house that they were very proud of burned to the ground while their dog barked and barked its lament.

I also saw fires destroy an empty home on Orchard Circle in north Nanaimo and an abandoned hoarders’ home on Spruston Road in Cassidy, and one of my co-workers was at Plecas Road in South Wellington where another house burned down the week before.

VIDEO: Cause of fire at hoarders’ house ‘suspicious and undetermined’

VIDEO: House burns down in the middle of the night in East Wellington

VIDEO: House burns down overnight in north Nanaimo

VIDEO: House south of Nanaimo destroyed by fire

I saw the efforts with which the firefighters, volunteer or otherwise, battled the blazes, and while the houses were past saving, crews were able to keep the fires from spreading to nearby homes or igniting wooded areas.

“Can you imagine those forests in the summertime?” a fire chief asked me. I couldn’t.

In the newsroom we talked about all the fires and wondered what sort of lesson can come from them. Is there a public safety message to try to get across? The challenge is that each fire is its own entity. The hoarders’ house fire was deemed suspicious, but with the others, the houses were so completely destroyed that it was difficult for investigators to identify causes, eventually found to be electrical malfunctions.

So the standard fire safety measures – working smoke alarms, evacuation plans, etc. – are always important, but don’t really seem like the takeaway here.

Three of the house fires happened late at night, and particularly in rural areas where the houses are more spread out, there’s less likelihood that a neighbour will spot or sniff out smoke before it’s too late.

At the moment, the top-of-mind project for Nanaimo Fire Rescue is fire hall No. 1, the city’s busiest station. Citizens will be asked for alternative approval for $17 million in borrowing for a rebuild of the Fitzwilliam Street facility. The new station would be more than a fire hall – it will be an emergency operations centre and dispatchers working out of that building will continue to co-ordinate fire calls from Lantzville all the way to the Malahat.

That includes a lot of smaller departments of crews that are sometimes tasked with a middle-of-the-night call to a destructive fire, where they can’t always save the house, but almost always save the day.

For those of us here in the City of Nanaimo, the house next door is a little nearer and firefighters often just that little bit closer in situations when minutes matter. If we take care in our homes, well, we’ve also got them taking care of us in our neighbourhoods.

In the winter, a rash of fires isn’t anything more than random misfortune. So long as we remain fire smart there’s no reason to be fire fearful.

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