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Shuswap trailer park residents upset with handling of recent fire

Fire reignited in one unit after initial response, spreading to and destroying others

Upset continues to smoulder among residents of a Malakwa trailer park over the response to a recent fire that led to the destruction of five units and an outbuilding.

The fire initially started in one of the units at the Green Acres Trailer Park on Delaney Road on Monday evening, June 10. The Malakwa Fire Department responded, with mutual aid from Sicamous. The Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) took charge of the scene for a unified command. 

"The fire department was able to get water on it quickly and prevent it from spreading to the very close residences on either side and a shed that was at the rear of the building as well," CSRD deputy regional Fire Chief Sean Coubrough reported from the trailer park on Tuesday. He noted fire crews did an overhaul of the scene to determine no fire remained. However, they were unable to go inside the unit because the structural integrity had been compromised.

"When we left, all the heat that we could see with the thermal imagers was out, and we requested the neighbours to keep an eye on it overnight," said Coubrough. 

Around 3 a.m. on Tuesday, a resident of Green Acres reported smoke coming from the unit that had been on fire. Malakwa's Deputy Fire Chief Norm Nelson responded and found the scene to be secure. 

"They made the phone call and I can say… when the Deputy Chief Norm Nelson did show up, and I have spoken with Norm," said Coubrough in a Thursday, June 13 interview. "What he saw was basically wispy steam, no flames… he was there for about a half hour checking it out and he only spoke with the owner when he was there…

"Norm was there and from what he saw, there wasn't an issue, and he based that on his experience and his training."

Not long after the deputy fire chief's departure, the fire reignited in the unit and wound up spreading to neighbouring homes before firefighters returned to the scene around 5 a.m., according to residents. 

"Twenty minutes later it's engulfed again," said Cindy Watson who, with her spouse (who didn't want to be named), lost a unit under renovation. "They didn't stick around after the initial fire was put out, they didn't start tearing the place down looking for hot spots. They just left it sitting there."

Watson and her spouse are upset a fire truck wasn't left at the trailer park for the night. 

"After all this they had a truck sit there last night until this morning after they pushed everything into piles," commented the spouse on Wednesday, June 12. "My neighbours have lost everything. Mine was under construction, so I lost tools, building supplies and whatever for the trailer. But they lost everything."

Christopher Vierimaa-Atkins, the son of the person who reported the smoking trailer, said he used to be a member of the Malakwa Fire Department and was taught that "where there is smoke there is fire."

"He said it was steam from the water, I insisted he bring the trucks back and he did not," said Vierimaa-Atkins in an email to the Observer. "When they returned later that morning after I re-called 911, he and one (Malakwa) firefighter showed up at the start. Before we had any support to fight the fires, one firefighter ran one line, me and another ex-fireman jumped on a line without gear and started fighting the fire. If Norm would have brought in the trucks when the call was made in the early a.m., none of this would have happened and the initial fire could have properly been put out."

Coubrough said the "very dynamic fire" remains under investigation, and called the losses devastating for all who responded.

"It's devastating to all of us to have lost multiple structures and certainly we're going to work with the community and take this opportunity to… engage the local residents and the park owner and ensure we have some good emergency plans in place to prevent anything like that if possible from happening in the future.

"This is a community that looks out for each other as well, and they're looking for answers and we're going to do what we can to get those answers for them."

Regarding the Malakwa Fire Department's response and not leaving a truck behind, Coubrough said this had to do with resources at the rural fire department being stretched.  

"That fire department was out battling the fire from 8:30 to one in the morning and the members had to work the next day," said Coubrough. "So, the reason for that low turnout for that second call was likely, again, a combination of fatigue and day jobs.

"Mutual aid was immediately called from two fire departments and was upgraded to a third fire department for mutual aid, so four in total were very quickly at that fire scene."

Sicamous, Swansea Point and Ranchero/ Deep Creek crews were called to assist through mutual aid. 

Coubrough said part of the ongoing investigation involves clarifying timelines – what happened when. Another big question is how the fire started up again. 

"I spoke with an advisor from the Office of the Fire Commissioner who had made a trip to the scene and spoke with a resident who was nearby, I believe she lives right next door to the original house, and said she heard a 'pop' when the fire started up again around 5 a.m," said Coubrough. "That's the only report we have of that, but we are investigating that and trying to determine what and how this fire started up again so quickly."

Though upset, Cindy Watson was grateful for the support of neighbouring fire departments. 

"It's to the point now if any other fires out here happen, we're calling Sicamous," said Watson. 

With files from Heather Black, Salmon Arm Observer


Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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