The aftermath of a devastating house fire on Maple Bay Road July 7. (Jakob Buttner-Danyliw photo)

Sarah Simpson Column: Firefighters extinguish blaze, ignite community’s gratitude

The firefighters were working their tails off to save everything else

Firefighters from five Cowichan Valley halls, along with a ground unit, a helicopter and its crew from the BC Wildfire Service were needed to extinguish a house fire on Maple Bay Road last Thursday.

The blaze, although dubbed a “routine” house fire, was anything but, as the structure was surrounded by trees and located at the bottom of a very dry, grassy hill below the Kingsview-area neighbourhood in Maple Bay’s The Properties.

These crew members — the men and women fighting the fire — worked at their own peril to ensure the empty house burned safely in place, and that no fire spread to put others into harm’s way.

Usually it’s not very easy for us regular folks to know just how successful the crews were. The entire building burned to the ground, so by that measure some might say the crews failed. They did anything but fail though. What they accomplished was nothing short of miraculous.

I happened to be at the desk writing up the story the night of the fire while another reporter/photographer was on the scene feeding me information (while I was writing while trying to feed my kids and two of their cousins dinner… but that’s another story for another day.)

Anyway, I wrote the story while the fire radio in my kitchen filled the background with the sound of calm and seamless communication between firefighters and all their various crews as they tackled the blaze. (They’d all been pulled away from their jobs and families to do so, I might add. They’re volunteers after all.)

Our photographer took stunning images of bright orange flames and that beautiful home going up in smoke, destroyed. Ravaged.

The fire crews soldiered on. Not to protect the house, mind you, they knew enough to know that couldn’t be saved. The firefighters were working their tails off to save everything else: the hill behind the home, the trees, and ultimately, the community in behind.

Boy oh boy, did they ever succeed.

One particular image of the aftermath struck me quite a bit.

When all was said and done, neighbour Jakob Buttner-Danyliw was able to capture a stunning photograph from above. At first glance there’s not much to see. But then, if you look at it a little more closely, you can see just how successful the crews were at containing the blaze and mitigating any secondary damage. The firefighters absolutely nailed it. Extreme heat, already dry conditions, a hill, tight quarters, and with the wind picking up, nothing stopped the firefighters from protecting everything they possibly could and that, I think, we can all agree is worthy of a good news story!

Neighbour Dan Nugent posted to Facebook shortly after the crews left.

“A loss of a great-looking character house, but on a happy note, the fire did not spread thanks to North Cowichan Volunteer Fire,” he wrote. No doubt he meant all of the firefighters, not just the North Cowichan crews, but you get the gist.

Nugent continued:

“The trees were close by and the heat intense. We are very grateful for what they did — including keeping an eye out for bush fires that would threaten our neighborhood — Selkirk Terrace and Nimpkish Pl.,” he wrote. “Crofton fire pumper parked in our yard. Always happy to have them! The forest that could have erupted in flames backs onto our road. We are so very grateful to those dedicated men and women who help keep us safe. Very evident by the cheering neighbours on our street as they left!”

Cheering in the streets didn’t seem like enough for Brennan Morgan, the co-owner of Panago Pizza.

When the Duncan Fire Department placed an order for 12 large pizzas and five cheesy breads, Morgan knew just what he wanted to do.

“When the firefighters placed the order, we immediately comped it for them,” Morgan said. “Whenever there’s emergencies in the Valley we like to do what we can. We fed the Hydro guys when we had that huge blackout a few years ago and usually whenever we have big snow storms we reach out to the plow guys as well to feed them. The Cowichan Valley definitely holds emergency services in pretty high regard in my opinion,” Morgan added.

I second that. Thank you fire crews. Stay safe.

Cowichan Valley Citizen