This is a doozy and probably going to take a couple of posts. So sit back while I try to process it all.
At 4am Thursday morning Shanty got off the bed and started to cry. I told her I was not going to let her out to chase sea lions and to get back into bed.. She did, but curled around my head, obviously stressed.
At 6am Thursday morning E got up and turned on the generator, as the batteries were a little low, and then turned on the well pump. The house lights dimmed and he got an error message, “AC overload”, which usually means a short circuit. He cut the breaker and was going to figure it out when it was light out.
Just before 7am Thursday the dogs started barking and we could hear weird noises. Popping sounds. I thought maybe a racoon or deer was on the deck so I opened the door. This is what we saw.
We have since been told that the fire was spotted from Vancouver Island, as a giant ball of flame, at 5:30. While we slept at the bottom of the hill, 75 feet away, our studio/workshop was burning and we had no idea. There is no power in the workshop if the generator isn’t running and it wasn’t. There were no gas cans or propane stored in the area and most of our projects were wrapped up for the winter, so no random paint cans, oily rags or paint thinner anywhere nearby. E was in the building around 3pm Wednesday picking up a few bottles of wine and everything was as it always is.
I phoned a few people but no one answered. E said he was going to have to go and get the island fire truck himself. The front grill of our truck was melted. With only one remaining headlight, which pointed straight up, he made it to the fire hall in the dark. On the way he woke one of the members of the volunteer fire department and within minutes there were four of them at the hall getting the truck.
I typed on my Ipad onto the island Facebook group “Help, our workshop is on fire.” I attached the picture above to prove I wasn’t exaggerating. My hands were shaking and dialing in the dark, standing on the deck. Holding on to the two dogs was difficult. Phone and two dogs in one hand, typing on the Ipad as it sat on the patio table, with the other.
I then grabbed E’s medications (he has to take pills at 9 am and 9 pm to stop his new heart rejecting and it isn’t something he can miss even if he is fighting a fire) and my wallet. Ran the dogs past the fire and locked them in the garden.
Our closest neighbour was the first to arrive. An islander had seen my Facebook post from off island and called him. He and I made our way past the fire down to the house to turn off the propane to the house. He left me to meet the fire crew while I hosed down the cedar shake siding closest to the fire. Once that was done I ran up , again, past the fire, to him.
The island has a distributed water system set up. Twenty-four, 2000 gallon water tanks are situated around the island for just this purpose. One is at the end of our property next to the garden. We ran there to try to hook up the hose. We didn’t have a pump but thought maybe gravity would help? I don’t know. Then another neighbour came running down the lane calling out “How can I help?” There really wasn’t much the three of us could do until the truck arrived with the pump.
Two more neighbours arrived . They had seen the Facebook post. She took charge of Shanty and Piper. She kept them safe where they could see E and I and be very good dogs. Another two islanders had seen the Facebook post from off island. They started calling out everyone they could think of who were on island at this time of year.
Everyone started to arrive. Within twenty minutes there were twenty two people here. Water was on the fire by 7:34 and the fire was out by 8 am. No trees burned down although a few have some black sides to them. Even the Garry Oak that you can see right next to the far corner of the burning building didn’t burn down. There is a conversation to be had about deciduous trees withstanding fire better than conifers and perhaps a better choice of tree near houses.
Cleanup continued all through the day. There were people separating the metal from the ash and helping E dig a trench to shut off the water supply to the building. A new neighbour showed up at the end of the day and offered the services of his excavator to clean up the mess.
In tomorrow’s post I can update you on the cleanup progress.
It had been raining… Could it have been a lightning strike? We just can’t imagine and every possibility has been evaluated. We keep going over it in our minds and we have people who know a lot about fires who can’t figure it out either. At this point we may never know and there is no point in guessing.
At one point I noticed a very dear friend was soaking wet. I guess the nozzle on her hose was missing a washer so it was leaking backwards at her as she was soaking the burning building. I noticed she had disappeared at one point and I thought, great, she has gone home to get changed. But she came back with coffee and cookies for everyone, wearing the same wet clothes.
She is the best. Well, they are all the best but she is
the wettest best