Torch attempt to thaw pipes blamed in Tappen house fire

Two pets were killed Thursday with one still missing after home completely destroyed in Shuswap.

Firefighters battle a tough fire in Tappen Thursday that destroyed a home and killed two dogs.

Firefighters battle a tough fire in Tappen Thursday that destroyed a home and killed two dogs.

Two dogs perished in a fire that destroyed a house in the 1600 block of Vella Road in Tappen Thursday afternoon and a cat was still missing Friday afternoon.

Tappen-Sunnybrae volunteer firefighters were called out to an already fully engulfed house fire at 2:45 p.m.

The property owner, who did not have insurance, was not in the home at the time of the blaze, which was sparked by an unattended propane torch being used to thaw out frozen pipes, says Kenn Mount, former Tappen Sunnybrae fire chief who assumed the role of Columbia Shuswap Regional District fire services co-ordinator Jan. 9.

“We’re under the assumption it was left unattended for a short period of time, and next thing you know we have a fully engulfed structure,” he says, noting the owner of the older, wood-frame home was in an adjacent building when the fire broke out.

Already made difficult by the extreme cold, the fire posed significant threat to the volunteer firefighters because a number of propane bottles in the vicinity of the torch were exploding, as was ammunition stored in a carport/shed attached to the home.

Mount says Tappen-Sunnybrae firefighter Kyle Schneider, who is taking over as fire chief, did very well in a command role under very difficult circumstances, as did the firefighters from his hall and from the Shuswap Fire Department, which provided mutual aid.

All told, 13 Tappen-Sunnybrae firefighters and 10 from Shuswap Fire Department worked to extinguish the blaze, some on scene for five hours. RCMP and BC Ambulance Service were also there.

“It was a cold, difficult night,” Mount says, explaining the house sat on a hill with a steep driveway, making access challenging. “Nearby residents provided sand, making sure we could get up there.”

Another complication in battling the blaze was the snaking of fire hoses on the hillside and the difficulty in keeping apparatus from freezing.

“Our best engine operators were on duty,” says Mount. “They have to get proper water pressure and water to the attack crews, and they do that with mathematical calculations. There’s a real science to operating a fire engine.”

After wrapping up at the fire scene, firefighters had another three hours of cleaning and organizing to do at the firehall – with more to do Friday evening.

Mount, who is transitioning from the firehall to the regional district, helped fight the fire and says he had “lots of concerns for the guys” and safety is number one with all they do.

Mount says he fell in love with firefighting when he joined the Tappen-Sunnybrae Fire Department in 2005 and has dreamt of obtaining a full-time job in the field.

While there, he won a grant award from an insurance company for integrating geographic information systems into the fire services.

“We have since acquired new tools and we are doing a lot to improve our data base,”

he says.

Schneider takes over as chief of the Tappen-Sunnybrae Firehall on Feb. 1, with the promotion going to the CSRD later in the month for official approval.