Residents of the Bold Point neighbourhood of Quadra Island had to battle a house fire themselves by pumping water from a nearby creek on Thursday night, but soon retreated to watch the blaze take the home – all but the chimney – to the ground.
The home was outside the fire protection area on Quadra Island, according to Strathcona Regional District (SRD) director for Discovery Island and Mainland Inlets Jim Abram, so there was little that could be done. The residents and their neighbours did their best, “but it only takes, what, 15 minutes for a fire to take down a house?” Abrams says.
So why couldn’t the Quadra Fire Department respond and help them out?
“It’s not that the fire department doesn’t want to go out there,” Abrams says. “Of course they do. It’s that they‘re not allowed to. It’s very, very sad that what happened, happened, especially just coming up on Christmas time and with everyone getting ready for the holidays to have a tragedy like this is devastating for our island and the people of our island. But the fix – and there are a lot of people working on one – well, we just can’t find one.”
While the fire protection services on Quadra are not under the mandate of the SRD, Abrams says, The SRD is expecting a report in January that would outline how more fire protection could be provided to Quadra residents that are outside the current protection zone.
“There has been a movement by some people on the north Island to try and get the fire coverage extended,” Abram says, “and we’ve let them know that we will be putting together a report of anything we can find that may help them be able to create fire service in their area. That report is going to be presented to the board at the first January meeting.”
He’s not optimistic about what it’s going to say, however.
“None of the possibilities we know about right now are really feasible,” Abram admits. “We’re trying really hard to solve this problem, but we just keep hitting stone walls.”
One option, Abrams says, is for the entire Island to have a referendum to pay for the current fire coverage to be extended, “which would be an outrageously huge amount of money, because the regulations for fire protection require that the maximum distance from a fire hall (that service can be provided) is 6 km.”
So small fire halls would have to be placed approximately 12 km apart all over the island for everyone to have coverage, Abram says, which is just financially unrealistic.
For each hall, Abram says, “you’re talking about $1 million or more just to build them,” and then you have to have to have equipment and staff to operate out of them.
“We’re talking outrageous dollars, and where would that come from?” Abram asks rhetorically. “Well, it would have to come from property taxation, and there just aren’t enough properties on the north Island to support that kind of taxation. Even if you included the entire island so that everybody was paying for fire protection for the entire island, they just couldn’t afford it.”
So because the current fire department, Abrams says, “has said there’s just no way that they have available to them to extend their service,” and building individual fire halls in every neighbourhood that wants fire coverage is extremely costly, what are the other possibilities?
“The only way we can see something happening is if those individual neighbourhoods built a line around a specified area and say ‘this area is going to build a fire hall,’ and that area would have to build it, supply it and staff it.”
And the likelihood of a neighbourhood “with maybe 30 houses,” to be able to come together supply themselves with a fire hall, Abram says, “is very slim.”
The SRD is, however, looking at supplying a few areas with saltwater pump systems from the shore that residents can access to help. There’s already one in place in the Granite Bay neighbourhood and they will be installing another in the Surge Narrows/Read Island area, “but those can only reach so far and the people in those neighbourhoods need to have standardized equipment that they can hook into that system. It only serves a limited area, but it’s a start,” Abram says. “We gotta do everything we can to make things safer in terms of fire protection. We’ll continue working on it and cooperating with everybody involved.”
The report on options for fire protection on Quadra is set to go before the SRD board Jan. 10.