Flash Back Fridays

THE FIRE: 1973

A story by David Boulding

The Lodge burned down May 23rd, 1973. The fire started after lunch and the building was completely finished by 3 pm. There were few people on property and nothing could be done except save some stuff and prevent other buildings from burning.

Jim, Myrna, and the kids: Jamie, Elizabeth, and Annie were in town. Jim and Myrna raced back to find all they owned burned to the ground. Tears were the common reaction. Jim Boulding’s suspicion that students smoking in the attic room near the crawl space started the fire had a rational basis because the only other possible reason for the fire was faulty wiring and there was no wiring close to the scene. Jim Denis, a contractor from town, was completing some renovations to the kitchen and north wing of the Lodge. I remember there being fewer than 10 people here on the property, although many people driving by stopped and helped.

And some helped themselves to some of the valuables: native baskets and carvings and even an old wagon wheel we saved from the fire.

The chimney after the fire of 1973

The chimney after the fire of 1973

The fire was so hot the Chevron gas station sign, a plastic four foot square sign, melted and buckled high atop a 30 foot steel pole about 50 feet from the building.

I remember Jade Chua from the kitchen being the hero. She was a UBC student from Hong Kong, working to pay for her university expenses. She was about five foot nothing, square-shouldered, and a solid muscular young 20 some- thing woman. Her heroism was visible twice. Some days earlier Jim Denis had taken out the big Garland cooking stove to clean it and make some changes to the gas fittings as the stove was being located farther north in the kitchen. It took four men to move the stove back into the kitchen, and the doorway trim had to be removed, as the stove was wider than the opening.

During the fire, as the building was aflame, Jim Denis armed with a crescent wrench undid the copper fitting disconnecting the stove from the gas line supply. I picked up the south end of the stove and Jade picked up the north end of the big Garland range and we carried the stove running the first few steps towards the walk in cooler, then turning hard right to race out the door leading to the driveway ripping out the door jam as we barreled out the opening.

Later Jade, all five feet nothing of her came with me as I drove the Dodge 300 Power Wagon down to the beach and into about three feet of water. I had collected about 10 or so green plastic garbage cans, and about 20 wool blankets from the laundry room.

The lip of the truck’s box was about five foot six inches from the ground. We filled the garbage cans with lake water and hoisted then in to the Fargo box. Jade did her share tossing in 20 plus gallons of water in green plastic cans as if tossing in pieces of firewood. And then she helped as we soaked the wool blankets and threw them in the back of the truck. I drove up the hill and into the driveway of Cabin 14, the long low cabin immediately west and downhill from the burning lodge. Some Friends World College students were on the roof laying out the wool blankets and using the green plastic garbage cans to soak the shake roof of the cabin.

We made several trips and some times we took the truck up to the building to pour water on wood or logs from the Lodge that fell away from the structure.

Jade never said much. She was a true soldier and my memory of her gives personal experience to the many stories I have heard about young girls lifting the car when a failing car jack trapped Daddy. I saw this young woman, in an emergency, lift and throw great weight around as if it was weightless.

Jim Denis was the first responder. I was in the downstairs cleaning or organizing some crap, books, and laundry, something on a TO DO list from Jim. I ran out hearing Jim Denis scream and saw him first race up the stairs to staff bedrooms above the dinning room in an effort to get on to the roof directly above the entrance way from kitchen to dinning room. He was armed with a red fire extinguisher. It was too late.

The roof was cedar shakes and it burned like a ten ton pile of kindling. The fire spread so fast that the entire top floor was soon burning.

Most of the people’s efforts were directed in saving the personal I took belongings and valuable items that they could carry. Several pairs of hands started in the bar, the dinning room and the great fireplace room grabbing what was handy and seemed valuable.

There was no discussion, no leaders, no plan and no thought of putting out the fire. Within a few minutes it had become apparent that saving the building was impossible. Everything I owned was stored in the upstairs room where Jim Nelson lived. All of Jim’s scuba and college stuff was burned along with all my darkroom equipment, cameras, negatives, books and clothes.

Alan Strid, the miniature super hero from New Zealand, and I had been sharing one of the downstairs rooms in the north wing. He was a former Outward Bounds leader. And the most fearless person I have ever met. His construction of the original ropes course is the stuff of arm/shoulder strength legend.

During the fire Alan was his standard selfless and fearless help.

After the fire had done most of its damage, the men from Western Mines arrived with a fire truck pump and hoses…all too late. They were still wear- ing their mining clothes. Office staff did not arrive, the face blackened miners raced up from the mine.