Ucluelet is rallying support around a local trailer park that has been cut off from power since a June 17 fire.
The fire was reported around 11:30 p.m. and the Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade was at the scene within minutes.
Fire chief Ted Eeftink told the Westerly eight crew members arrived to fight the flames and were quickly joined by another four from the Tofino Volunteer Fire Department thanks to an automatic assistance agreement the two communities signed last year.
He said when he arrived, a small shed was completely engulfed in flames and a nearby trailer had also caught fire.
“It was a significant amount of flame,” he said adding there was not much left of the shed. “My first thought was, ‘Okay, we’re going to save that trailer because it’s saveable.’”
The crew doused the flames with two hoses from their firetruck while another firetruck was en route to hook up to the hydrant.
“We had to wait for the second truck to come in to hook up to the hydrant and hook us up,” Eeftink said. “By the time that happened, we had just run out of water but we had knocked it down enough that it couldn’t spread anymore.”
He added the risk of the fire spreading was significant as another trailer as well as a house were both within roughly four metres of the fire.
“Our first mission is to get water on it and try to contain it to one area,” he said. “The guys did really well. They knocked it down to the point where it couldn’t move any further until we got more water onto the scene, which only took probably another three minutes.”
He said the crew was unable to save the trailer entirely as the flames made their way into the walls but they worked hard to save as many items from inside as they could.
No other trailers were impacted and the fire was extinguished around 4:30 a.m. though deputy fire chief Mark Fortune stayed on watch until 7:30 a.m.
Eeftink noted the crew had a full day of training that morning starting at 8 a.m.
“I really appreciate the time and effort they put in to be volunteers with the department,” he said.
“It’s unbelievable, the commitment they put out there and their families to let them be there; they’re amazing people that’s for sure.”
A cause for the fire remains unknown but an investigation is ongoing.
Ucluelet local Deborah-Anne Bertin was in the Yukon when she received a call around 1 a.m. telling her that her trailer had caught fire.
“I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t know what to do. I was going in a million different directions,” she told the Westerly.
“What is the resident supposed to do when that happens…I’ve never been through a house fire before. There’s probably certain steps that should be followed but I had no idea what they were.”
Unable to find a flight out to Ucluelet the next day, she flew back to town on June 19 to try to sort things out.
She found her trailer, which she has lived in since around 2008, significantly damaged.
“I don’t really think it’s salvageable,” she said adding she expected to hear from a contractor this week for a cost estimate on the damage.
Bertin thanked as many members of the local fire crew as she could while she was in town.
“I was super grateful to them,” she said. “I’m shocked the whole thing didn’t burn to the ground. I really am.”
She added the impact to the park could have been disastrous were it not for the crew’s quick response and added she was lucky that her and her two cats were far away when the fire occurred.
“If it had jumped to any of the other trailers, because they’re all lined up in a neat little row it could have swept through the whole park,” she said.
“It’s not something you ever want to go through but it could have been much worse…It’s just a good thing I wasn’t there. I don’t know if the cats would have gotten out. You can’t really call a cat like you can call a dog,”
She added that it’s been a tough experience to go through.
“Everyone else in the park was okay. My cats were with me; everything else is stuff. It’s getting harder to say that every time I say that but it’s true,” she said.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it sucks. I’ve lived there for nine years. That’s my life. But, I had a couple bags of stuff with me up north, I had my cats with me and I was able to salvage a few other things.”
She said the community’s response has been heartwarming.
“I’m grateful for everyone’s kind words and well wishes,” she said.
A friend kicked up a GoFundMe account to help her get started on rebuilding—https://www.gofundme.com/2a59gzft—and Howler’s Family Restaurant donated a gift card that Bertin and her mom, who came to town to support her, used during the week she was here.
Bertin added that while her trailer was the only one damaged by the flames, she was not the only resident impacted.
She said the fire damaged a water pipe and cut the trailer park off from water until the pipe was fixed on June 20 and the park remains without power because the shed destroyed by the flames housed the park’s electrical equipment.
“That was the electrical shed for the park so, basically, the electrical grid is ashes right now,” she said. “There’s not going to be power in that park for a long time.”
She encourages locals to donate gas cards to help the park’s residents fuel generators and a Facebook page has been set up dubbed ‘Helping the Hillside Trailer Park’ where more donation suggestions can be found.
“Just keep doing what Ukee does and keep pulling together,” Bertin said. “Keep supporting everybody.”
BC Hydro spokesperson Karla Louwers told the Westerly that Hydro cannot restore power to the area until the site is deemed safe by an electrician and hiring the electrician is the responsibility of the park's owner.
“We require the customer or their electrical contractor to reach back out to let us know we can reconnect and in the event of a fire we do require, essentially, a permit so that they’ve made the site safe for us to reconnect power,” Louwers said.
“Sometimes, before we receive that, there’s quite a bit of work that needs to happen by the electrical contractor but, once that work is complete and they’ve signed off, then they make that phone call to us and we get out there as soon as we can.”
She added there is no contingency route to speed up the process.
“We require that to be safe…There’s no side-step out of that,” she said.