Responding to numerous 911 calls, Tappen-Sunnybrae firefighters had no trouble finding a fire at 1560 Vella Rd. in Tappen Thursday, May 11.
Thick, black, acrid smoke laced with ash was clearly visible from the Trans-Canada Highway and surrounding area, drawing complaints of sore throats and burning eyes.
Tappen-Sunnybrae Fire Chief Kyle Schneider said the department was called out at 7:49 a.m. and discovered a large, fully engulfed pile of debris.
He says a contractor had demolished an old house and set it on fire and was confused about where he got permission to do so.
“He told me the house was empty but obviously it wasn’t; he was adding to the fire, other debris to it, making the fire bigger,” Schneider said. “We have been hearing from neighbours that they had been dumping other stuff in the house for the last few days – tires and all sorts of debris.”
The fire chief says when he arrived at the Vella Road site, he told the contractor not to try to bury the fire with dirt and proceeded to direct operations and call for the water tender from the White Lake Fire Department.
“But he did just exactly that with another guy and an excavator and a bobcat,” Schneider says, noting he would not allow firefighters to approach the machines while they were being operated. “Eventually we got his attention and got him to stop.”
Firefighters used water and foam to try to suppress the flames but Schneider says it was difficult because of the way the debris had been treated.
“It was so crushed, it was tough to get water into it when it was burning at the bottom, and his covering it just made it harder.”
Unable to get to the core of the fire, Schneider says when the flames had been reduced and only white smoke was evident, the contractor was put on fire watch to make sure the fire did not spread and firefighters returned to the fire hall.
Tappen-Sunnybrae firefighters were called back to the scene about 7 p.m. with additional water and manpower supplied by the White Lake Fire Department.
“It’s a big, steep driveway and we were tired from the day at the fire,” says Schneider, whose firefighters have also been dealing with the Sunnybrae Canoe Point mudslide. “It’s great they came out and helped us.”
Luckily, a Thursday evening deluge helped firefighters quell the flames.
Schneider says the contractor was at the scene of the fire on Friday morning, attempting to pull the debris apart.
CSRD Fire Services co-ordinator Sean Coubrough was also on scene early Thursday morning and called the BC Conservation Office when he saw the type of material in the fire, including appliances with Freon gas.
“The CO has quite a few photos; they’re doing their own investigation and all of this will be taken into account,” Coubrough says.
The Conservation Office had not responded to the Observer as of Friday afternoon, May 12.
Meanwhile, anyone who wishes to burn anything in the regional district should contact their local fire hall for information on where to get the necessary permit. In Tappen-Sunnybrae, the number is 250-835-8696.
Another option is to get a burn permit directly by calling the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations’ dedicated line at 1-888-797-1717.