The newly established clearing, at the top of the driveway, that we have found ourselves with, is dangerously close to quicksand levels. E actually lost the sole of his boot into the depths of the mud and yesterday I was close to needing a rope tow out.
I had been digging a bit of a trench to help drain the large puddles when I started to sink. It is clear now that all of the nearby island cliffs drain on to this level of our property. Seems to me that I will have little trouble growing trees on this new space.
I can’t keep calling it the new space, the scene of the fire, or top of the driveway. We need to name it. It used to be called the playground because it had both a trampoline and a swing set, but they are gone.
E has begun work on the new generator shed. Building from scratch is a lot more fun than renovating. There is a lot of humming and singing going on as he is enjoying the project.
E and I have been carrying around a street sign for thirty odd years, which I think we should hang on a tree in the new clearing. When I update you with the progress as we deal with the mud, and reclaim the land with plants and trees, I will be referring to the new area as the crescent
Growing up, as I did, in the sixties, watching Gilligan’s Island, I was left with the impression that there would be a lot more issues with quick sand than I have, until now had to deal with
I think I might have mentioned, several times, that we have an enormous number of stellar sea lions in our neighbourhood these days. There is every indication that there is a ton of food in the waters for them and that bodes well for a good herring spawn this coming spring. Hundreds of the sea lions continue to swim past our window during the day, barking and coughing as they travel by.
I don’t have a picture to prove it, but we saw another nature channel first this week. One of the sea lions swimming under our window had a giant number spray painted on his back. Apparently, in the 90’s, two researchers began a study on the travelling habits of the stellar sea lions. They tagged seal pups and followed their lives. The study isn’t interested in my sighting because I was too surprised to take a picture, but I was able to track his number (X76) and it indicates he was born in the summer of 2000, and was tagged July 3rd on Sugar Loaf Island, in the Barren Islands, Gulf of Alaska.
Our long to-do list has come to a roaring halt because it is freezing outside and snowing as well. With the generator up and working and safe in its temporary home we are not eager to be outside any longer than absolutely necessary.
After the removal of the batteries from our bathroom, it became apparent last night that E needed to demousify (is that a word?) the utility cupboard. It was a simple job today to seal potential exposures but it took more time outside than E would have liked, brrrrr. Hopefully, our dogs will no longer be entertained with a little critter running past them in the living room like they were last night. We have plenty of traps available for just such an emergency and am confident we caught the ingress promptly.
There is good news on the Camelia front. Remember when I told you that the plum tree hadn’t given us plums for years so we took it down and moved a Camelia to its spot in the garden. The Camelia hadn’t flowered in years so I had every hope it would thrive in the plum’s spot in the garden. I am happy to report that the Camelia is covered in buds.
For a pleasant diversion, I have begun to dream about the summer garden and browse the seed catalogues. It is worth looking at the different suppliers, as there is quite the range in prices. I ended up ordering from three different suppliers last year but mostly from William Dam. For example Tango celery seeds (or equivalant) are $3.95 at William Dam seeds, $4.40 at Vesey seeds and $6.49 at West Coast.
Last summer, for the first time, I tried my hand at growing brussels sprouts. Not for us so much, but for our kids who apparently like them. Our vegetable supply was running low today so, in a desperate search for green vegetables, I braved the cold temperature and headed up to the garden. I had to shake the snow off the plants but was able to harvest enough brussel sprouts for our dinner. I will definitely grow them again next summer if I can harvest fresh greens in the middle of December. They didn’t taste anything at all like the sprouts I was fed in my youth. These ones were small but sweet.
Thursday, E built a box which will now sit outside on the deck to house eight Surette batteries. Each one weighs 120 pounds. The construction, without his usual supplies, and the logistics and the lifting and the moving was tiring exhausting. He was beat at the end of the day. It was basically a one person job, so, although lots of people offered their assistance, he wanted to do it on his own, as is his normal want, but the next morning, and don’t tell him I said this, he looked like shit.
Friday, we were scheduled to go to town to pick up our new instant metal shed (135 pounds on to the truck, off the truck, into the boat, off of the boat, into the truck, out of the truck) which will temporarily house the new generator. I took one look at him as he left to walk the dogs at 8 am, and picked up the phone to call one of our sons who has been, in the past, able to work from here. He was on the 10:40 ferry. He should have worn a cape cause as soon as he arrived, both E and I visibly relaxed. Just the strong back, extra pair of hands and calm practical influence we needed.
The shed, once built, will temporarily house the generator, safely at the top of the driveway, until we build a permanent home for it. One day it can maybe be used to store stuff. We don’t have any stuff at the moment but I imagine one day down the road we will need somewhere to store, maybe a bocce game or croquet set.
They started first thing this morning and were at it most of the day. By dark the generator is safely in it’s new temporary home. It was basically lego for big kids.
The sea lions serenaded them while they worked.
So, one son is here for the week and our other son and his family are coming for Christmas. Our daughter and her partner are working but will come in the new year when we need them. We have great kids.
We so appreciate all of the offers of help from our neighbours. We thank them all and hope they trust us to ask for help when we need it, cause we will, but in this particular case we
I was up at the site this afternoon, raking and tidying debris. I had a small burn pile going and, as I cleaned up the area, I could hear E singing down on the deck as he worked on our first urgent project. He is nothing if not happy when working with his tools on a useful project.
We have decided to move our batteries out of the house into a separate box on the deck. It is perfectly safe to leave them where they were but curiously, over the last week, we have become super safety conscious and are going to change a few systems. The eight Surette batteries will be located in an insulated box outside, and well ventilated on the deck, by tomorrow.
We went to town yesterday and picked up our new 6500 watt Honda generator. E’s Dad always said only buy Japanese generators and, thirteen years after his passing, we still do as we were told. We had lots of offers of help to get the 230 pound generator into the boat and down to our house. We were happy to have the help from those who were able to show up.
Again, and for probably every day since the fire, we were in bed by 7pm last night. We are then up at 4, which has the potential of a good nine hour sleep (if we were actually sleeping) but it is kind of awkward that we are on a Toronto time zone sleep schedule. It is not that we are dwelling on what we have lost but we are planning on what needs to be done and where we need to go from here.
This will be the last blog post about the fire. I don’t know about you but I am sick of thinking about it and would really like to return to conversations about sea lions and humpback whales.
You might have noticed that I have rewritten my previous two posts to eliminate the specific names of people who came to our aid. I had wanted to make mention of all of the islanders who came to our aid to thank them publicly but it has since occurred to me that perhaps they didn’t want their names or pictures publicized. Lord knows I don’t want to offend any of these fine folks. So I have replaced their names with the word neighbour. When reading, the word
By 3pm Thursday, the fire was out, our water system was secured and everyone had gone home. We went down to the house and stared at each other. We hadn’t eaten. Friends had offered to have us over for dinner or bring dinner to us but all we really wanted was a turkey sandwich and to go to bed. At 7pm, we did just that.
4 am Friday we were up. Neither of us was sleeping so there was really no point in staying in bed. I made blueberry muffins and cookies by candlelight. There was very little power left in our batteries and what there was, was needed to power our fridge. So a romantic candle-lit breakfast of a bowl of porridge and coffee, was made on the stove, old school.
7 am Friday, we returned to the work site and continued to separate metal scraps in the dark. At 8 am our neighbor arrived in the excavator. What a welcome sight he was. After 42 years of operating an excavator he has real skills and watching what he could do was amazing. The building was 32×16 feet long with the generator room adding an additional 8 x6 feet. We had imagined chopping the 32 foot beams up with a chainsaw to burn but that excavator could pick up them up and crush them to go on the fire. E and I and the dogs just stayed out of his way and watched in awe. By 2 pm Friday there was a nice burn pile going, a separate huge pile of metal and no sign at all of the building.
The on-going problem was trying to find a backup generator which would power our batteries. Another neighbour was here by then with her 2 kw generator but there was no way to connect it properly to our battery bank. They were incompatible. Another neighbour, offered his, but it also was incompatible. So again, Friday, we sat by candlelight, with a bowl of soup from the freezer, warmed on the fire. Back into bed at 8pm. This time, I was smart though and took my first little happy pill to get some sleep.
4 am Saturday morning, it was pouring rain and I mean just pouring. We made our coffee on the stove and had a bowl of porridge. But we had both had a good sleep and were really feeling good. There was going to be a fire department debrief at 10 which E was going to go to and I was planning on working at the site tidying. But at 8 am the excavator operator showed up again to continue clearing the site. He told me by the end of the day I wouldn’t think there had ever been a building there and he was right. He went to the meeting with E and then came back and worked until he was satisfied at 2pm.
After the fire meeting more neighbors offered us their 7500 watt generator to try, and then brought it over. It required a 30 amp 4 prong plug to connect to our system so I put out a call to the island facebook group, and two neighbours showed up almost immediately with the necessary item. The generator had not been run in a year and, despite our best efforts, it was going to continue not running. We were getting late into the afternoon by now and we had to try something else before we ran out of power in the house. Two more neighbours had come over to help with the power issues and one of them thought we might be able to use the other 2K portable generator by dialing down the AC input on our inverter/charger to 15 amps and cutting the lead off an extension cord to plug into the generator output. This actually produced current at the inverter end but, alas, no charging of the batteries. The system probably was wired to accept only a 30 amp input. So the call went out again and we managed, finally, to borrow a 6500 watt generator and hook it up to the house system. We were now up and running, charging at +100 amps, just as the batteries were showing 45%.
You might have guessed that E wrote this last paragraph cause I am the least qualified on the island to discuss power. While all of the battery issues were dealt with I was on the phone trying to figure out logistics and to source a new generator. Again, with the support of some very good friends, we are picking our new generator up on Tuesday.
Two huge construction bags were left with us on Saturday. They hold 3 cubic yards of materials with a 3000 lb load weight. Sunday morning at 7, E and I started to pile all the metal into the bags. Around 11, Three neighbours arrived to help. I gathered random downed branches and debris and burned them on the site where our usual burn pile sits. If nothing else it gave us somewhere to warm ourselves because, although it wasn’t raining, the north wind was hitting us straight on and it was cold. The two bags were full and we needed another so a call went out and in minutes another neighbour arrived with another one.
The bags were all full and tarped up by 2. Everyone had gone so we came down to our house, opened a bottle of wine and started to make lists. I cope with stress by making lists. Lists of what we urgently need, what we will eventually need, who has helped, who has lent us stuff, what we lost and of course the longest list of all, for what
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