House fire leaves islanders in need
Salt Spring Fire Rescue teams put their skills to the test during a barrage of calls Thursday and Friday, including a kitchen fire that displaced the residents from both suites of a house on Feb. 12.
Firefighters were called to Churchill Road Thursday morning to extinguish an excavator that caught fire while its operator worked on a property there.
Friday morning started with a call about a possible chimney fire on Garner Road at 8 a.m. Acting Assistant Chief Dale Lundy said crews investigated and found the woodstove pipe had become disengaged, which filled the room with smoke, but fortunately no fire resulted. The crew was then called out again just after 10 a.m. to a structure fire on Lakefair Drive.
Firefighters were able to contain the fire to the kitchen area where it originated, but the blaze has left Lisa Sigurgeirson Maxx and her brother Steve Sigurgeirson without a home until smoke damage can be rectified.
Sigurgeirson Maxx said she had been doing childcare on an outdoor porch play area when she started hearing a beeping sound. At first she thought it might be a clock since her young charge is fond of them, but when the sound persisted she realized it might be the smoke detector. When she went to check, she encountered thick black smoke coming from the kitchen area.
“I couldn’t even step inside. It was just full of smoke,” Sigurgeirson Maxx said.
She immediately called 911 and went to the basement suite to alert her brother.
Lundy said there was no clear indication of where the fire was located until fire crews entered the home. Around 17 firefighters attended with multiple apparatus. They were able to wrap up and leave the site by aabout 12:30 p.m.
Although Lakefair Drive is located far from any fire hydrants, crews were able to transport all the water they needed and used a “narrow belay” system, sending hoses from the tanker truck down the driveway.
Most contents of the home, especially fabric-based, will not be salvageable and the residents will not be able to return for some time.
“It was great to contain it to the kitchen, but the kitchen was significantly damaged by fire,” Lundy said, adding smoke damage throughout the home will make it unhealthy to be inside for a while. “It’s definitely not healthy to stay there.”
BC Hydro, RCMP and BC Ambulance paramedics also attended the scene. Sigurgeirson Maxx was checked at Lady Minto Hospital for smoke inhalation. Emergency Social Services was additionally activated to provide immediate clothing needs.
Sigurgeirson Maxx said she was lucky to have family nearby, including a nephew on the attending ambulance team. Her daughter and grandson also arrived soon afterward and took care of all her needs that day.
Fortunately she and her charge were just outside that morning and not on one of the long walks they often take, so she eventually heard the alarm. Another lucky break is she happened to have her cell phone outside and was able to reach everyone she needed without dropping any calls; she often can’t get service there.
The fire has been especially traumatizing since her family went through a catastrophic house fire soon after they moved to Salt Spring in January 1974, when Sigurgeirson Maxx was just 12 years old. Just over two years ago, Sigurgeirson Maxx and her brother were driving around on Christmas Eve collecting gifts for another family who were displaced by fire right after the Dec. 20, 2018 windstorm.
In comparison this fire seemed not so bad at first, since the house is still standing, but the impact is large nonetheless. The insurance adjuster had not been able to get to the house due to the weekend’s snow, and restoration may take up to six months before the house is livable again.
“It’s still devastating because I can’t go home. I can’t get anything out of my house,” said Sigurgeirson Maxx. “It’s funny how the brain minimizes things sometimes, just to let you cope.”
Sigurgeirson Maxx is grateful for the outpouring of love and support but has quite a few needs for the coming weeks, and will be seeking rental accommodation. Anyone who would like to help can email Sigurgeirson Maxx’s daughter Jekka Mack at email@example.com or her mother Christine Sigurgeirson Donnelly Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
For more on this story, see the Feb. 17, 2021 issue of the Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.