With assistance from the Courtenay Fire Department and BC Wildfire, Cumberland firefighters battled a blaze on the old Souther homestead on Wednesday, Sept. 7, successfully containing the blaze before it could spread into the forest.
Cumberland Fire Chief Mike Williamson said the fire started in a shop next to the main house, and embers from the shop jumped to the main structure. Other embers were causing additional fires among the trees.
“When I arrived, the flames were shooting all the way to the top of the trees,” said Williamson. “Then the stuff flying off the trees was causing other spot fires, so BC Wildfire showed up… I told them I needed them to walk through the forest and find any hot spots flaring up. They did a really good job.”
An unusually windy afternoon created the potential for a devastating wildfire, as the homestead sits amidst the Cumberland Community Forest, just beyond Coal Creek Historic Park.
“When we got this call, the wind had just died down - we were really lucky,” said Williamson. “I was at my house in the afternoon and I thought ‘Oh man, if we had a fire right now…’ But the wind perfectly calmed down and then this happened.
“If this was last August, when it was way drier, it would have been a lot worse. One thing we always fear in our department is this community forest. It’s a big part of our community, and when I saw this going on thought, ‘oh my God, we have to save this forest.’ I’ve walked through this forest many times and it is beautiful back there.”
There were no injuries reported, although there was some concern of a youth inside the main house.
“We did three searches of the house, but Deputy Fire Chief Stefane Dionne said ‘there’s nobody in there. We have done every room and there is absolutely nobody inside.’ He was looking after the house and I looked after the rest. He did a great job on the house.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation. A group of youths was present at the time the fire began.
Black Press has reached out to the RCMP for comment.
Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird was on scene during the fire to observe from a safe distance, and praised all those involved in containing the fire.
“They did an absolutely amazing job,” she said. It was so well co-ordinated. Thank you to the Courtenay Fire Department for their mutual aid agreement. Hydro, (BC Wildfire), everybody who needed to be there was there.”
She added she shared the concern of many villagers about the possibility of the fire spreading into the community forest.
“When I first saw it, it looked absolutely scary,” said Baird. “There was a lot of concern from a lot of residents in town, and they had a right to be afraid. We were fortunate that the wind died down.”
Williamson also extended his appreciation to his squad.
“Our whole team worked so hard… really hard. This is a lot of work. I am very proud of them.”
The property was recently acquired by the Village of Cumberland, and Williamson said the area was going to be used for firefighter training.
“We were planning fire practices here, so we had a good one last night.”