Douglas – Firefighters from the Douglas Fire Department responded to two calls in less than 72 hours last week, one which destroyed an old farm house Thursday night and the other that claimed the life of a person who perished in a vehicle fire late Sunday afternoon.
The residential fire occurred on Cahill Line, in the Micksburg area, and firefighters were challenged by poor weather conditions, narrow roads and having to shuttle water from Cobden, about 10 kms away. A fire was reported in the attic of the home around 9 p.m. and firefighters spent all night fighting the stubborn blaze, returning to their station at about 6 a.m. Friday only to learn later that morning that the fire re-ignited and finished what was left of the standing structure.
The vehicle fire, which is under investigation by the Upper Ottawa Valley detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police, was reported Sunday afternoon shortly after 5 o’clock on the little travelled Breen Line that runs off of Bulger Road, about six kms west of Kelly’s Corner.
It was only after firefighters extinguished the inferno that a body was discovered in the vehicle and now police have launched an investigation. Breen Line, which runs off of Bulger Road and connects with Agnew Road, is now closed to traffic and isn’t expected to re-open possibly until today (Wednesday). The road meanders through farmlands in the Bromley section of the municipality. There is only one farm residence along the road which is mostly bordered by farmland.
The Cobden Station of the Whitewater Township Fire Department was the first to be paged out to the Thursday night home fire as it covers this section of the township under a first response agreement. Smoke was billowing from the upper level windows when firefighters arrived and after several hours of applying water on the structure, the blaze was brought under control.
However, responders faced several challenges during the night – starting with a significant snow fall throughout the night, extremely narrow township roads barely allowing two vehicles to meet and pass safely in the winter and the location of the house at the end of a long laneway. Trucks hauling water had to back about 1,000 feet in the narrow laneway to offload into the portable reservoir that was set up to feed the pumper truck.
Chief McHale said the truck drivers did a great job keeping the vehicles on the roads.
“We can’t do anything without the water being hauled,” he said. “Number one, meeting on that road. It was not ideal road conditions to begin with and then it started to drift sometime between 3:30 and 4:30. But for a quarter of an inch either way, if those trucks go in the ditch you don’t just pull them out with a pick-up.”
The farm is owned by Hugh Byce and the house was rented to an individual who lived alone. The occupant left the premises before firefighters arrived.
“We worked hard until about 5:20 in the morning,” Chief Bill McHale said. “It was an old log home with multiple roof lines and a very cluttered situation to be working in.”
Whitewater did the initial interior attack and found no one inside the building. Chief McHale then had his personnel search the residence, once on the ground level and then the second level, and found no one inside.
After three sweeps were made, he decided to suspend any further searches because of the potential danger to firefighters.
“We started with an exterior attack and we tried to let it burn through the roof so we could get to it (the fire),” he said. “We then put ladders up and fought it through the windows and we did get it extinguished.”
Firefighters remained on scene until 5:30. Chief McHale and firefighter Dennis McEachen returned about 6:30 and did a walk-around to ensure there was no more fire.
He said to burn completely within an hour and 10 minutes after they left, and after putting 18,000 to 22,000 gallons of water on it, was just bizarre.
“We were certain we had the fire out when we left,” he said. “We wouldn’t leave if we were pretty sure. Pretty sure doesn’t cut the mustard in this business. Even when we went back after an hour and a half, there was still water running through the ceilings. There were no embers.”
The cause of the fire is unknown but is not considered suspicious in nature. The building was not insured.