House fires aren’t common on Cape Sable Island, a small community of about 2,220 on the tip of Nova Scotia’s southwestern coast.
A couple of times a year is about average, says Dwayne Hunt, chief of the Island and Barrington Passage fire department.
That’s why he’s baffled, and disheartened, by the recent spate of structure fires that have claimed one life, left families homeless and injured members of his volunteer department.
“There’s been five major ones. Four have been residential structures and one was a commercial structure,” Hunt said Thursday.
“It’s very, very unusual.”
Arson not suspected
Hunt said none appears to be arson related. The causes range from an electrical fire to a chimney/stove fire.
“There doesn’t appear to be any similarities other than the fact that they were residences. It’s a very uncommon and strange thing,” he said.
“I’ve been in the service for 36 years. Normally for us, there’s two, maybe three, structure fires a year — for the whole year and they’d never be this close together. I really don’t have any explanation for it.”
One man, believed to be in his 60s, died in a Nov. 21 blaze that consumed his home.
Within hours, on Nov. 22, crews were called to another midday house fire. There were no injuries but the home was destroyed.
‘It’s been a very draining period’
Two firefighters were injured while battling a blaze at Long Point Lobster and Seafood Ltd. that broke out Nov. 24 after a trash fire spread.
The firefighters lost control of the hose line and were knocked off their feet by the water pressure, leaving one man unconscious and the other with facial and eye injuries.
On Sunday, an elderly couple lost their house and their belongings when their house burned.
The most recent fire took place early Wednesday evening, leaving a family of four homeless.
Meanwhile, the volunteer firefighters, many of whom are also lobster fishermen, are worn out, Hunt said.
The timing of the fires, so close to Christmas, has only added to the tragedies.
“It’s putting pretty heavy stress on us — physically and mentally,” said Hunt. “Everybody has a day job as well…. so it’s been a very draining period.”
Be fire smart
The lobster season is currently underway for the area’s fishery.
Hunt said he can’t predict what is going to happen in the next weeks and can only encourage people to “be fire smart and fire safe.”
“Make sure your wood-burning appliances and chimneys are cleaned properly. Make sure electrical components and things like that are working properly.”
He said the Canadian Red Cross and Salvation Army have helped out in some of the cases, and donations have been collected among individuals in the community.
Number of calls ‘unheard of’
Having five major calls in 22 days “is unheard of” in this area, said David Kendrick, fire service co-ordinator for Municipality of the District of Barrington.
The municipality has a program that alerts other departments in the region when there is a fire, in case more resources are needed.
In the Sunday night fire, three departments in the Barrington area supplied 55 firefighters, Kendrick said.
“These guys, some of them would have been lobstering on Sunday, just got in from lobster fishing. Some would have been working in tank shops … they all came.”