Barry’s Bay – A late Friday afternoon fire reported to have caused millions of dollars in damage to a residence in Combermere was one of the largest and hottest fires the Madawaska Valley Fire Department may have ever battled.
At 5:18 p.m. Friday afternoon, the MV department was dispatched to a “fully engulfed fire” on Annie Mayhew Road on McPhee’s Bay in Combermere. Twenty-five personnel responded between the Barry’s Bay and Combermere stations, with two pumpers, two tankers, a rescue unit.
“I live 20 minutes away and I saw the plume of black smoke and the guys in the Bay could see it as they were leaving too,” noted Chief Corwin Quade. “We knew we had a fully-engulfed structure fire.”
When the first personnel arrived on scene 16 minutes later, the structure was an inferno, burning on all four sides and up through the roof of the two-storey home.
“Once I got there, I activated Mutual Aid from BLR (Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan) for two more tanker trucks,” Chief Quade noted. “When I realized how big the fire was, I knew we didn’t have the proper water supply, so I called them immediately.”
They responded with four personnel and two tankers.
Chief Quade said it was one of — if not the worst — nights he has ever fought a fire on.
“It was minus 28 when we got there, minus 41 with the wind chill. The trucks were freezing up, our dry hydrant froze up, the guys were covered in ice.
“As soon as they started spraying, their shields were covered in ice, everything was ice,” he added. “If you sprayed water anywhere other than on the fire, it just turned into a skating rink.”
He said firefighters used a portable torch to thaw the hydrant enough to get water, adding it was a four-kilometre trip each way.
“Sometimes we’d have to wait for or five minutes,” he noted.
He said the way the wind was blowing, his personnel tried to stay out of the smoke, noting the radiant heat from the fire was so intense, they had to move the trucks back at one point.
“At one point, it got so hot, you couldn’t touch the side of the truck. We were about 80 feet away at that point and the radiant heat would probably have melted the side of the truck.”
He deployed the thermal camera and it read the maximum 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. The firefighters also had to deal with deep snow around much of the home.
Chief Quade said after about 30 minutes on scene, there was a massive explosion that originated in the attached two-bay garage which brought down the second-floor ceiling and the roof collapsed into the structure.
“The flames shot out about 50 feet towards the firefighters,” he said. “It was a huge ball of flame and went up about 75 feet in the air.
“It was like a mushroom cloud of flames,” he added.
He said the explosion came out of nowhere, noting the owners’ Audi was in the garage so it may have been the fuel tank on it that exploded. He said the heat was so intense there is very little of the car remaining other than the motor and transmission.
“You’d never know there was car in the garage, it completely melted,” he remarked.
Chief Quade said there was a neighbouring residence about 75 feet away which firefighters were busy keeping water on to prevent the radiant heat from starting a second fire.
He said the fire is not considered to be suspicious in nature, noting everything burned so badly the source may never be known.
“Witnesses said they first saw flames coming out the second-storey bedroom window on the east side of the house,” he said.
The owner of the property, Neil Enright, had left for Arizona the previous day and was actually notified of the fire down there by his neghbours.
“He is fully insured,” Chief Quade said. ‘The house in probably worth $2 million alone, without the contents.
“We’re probably looking at a $3 to $4 million loss,” he added.
The house was 5,600 square feet in size with the garage attached.
Fortunately, no firefighters were injured during their four-hours on the job. He said OPP were on site for the entire time and released the scene around midnight.