Jacob Michael Waldner died in this trailer fire at Meade Creek in early November 2009. (Gazette file)

Lake Flashback: Fatal fire, lucky escape, my first story, and more this week

We’ve got thrills and spills as well: some week in history

Welcome to Lake Flashback. Reporter Lexi Bainas has been combing through old newspapers with the assistance of the Kaatza Station Museum and Archives so we can jog your memory, give you that nostalgic feeling, or just a chuckle, as we take a look at what was making headlines this week around Cowichan Lake in years gone by.

This week around the Cowichan Lake area…

10 years ago:

The front page story in the Lake Cowichan Gazette of Nov. 11, 2009 was “64-year-0ld man dies Friday night in Meade Creek trailer park fire.”

The headline and the accompanying picture of the burnt out trailer are shocking.

“Jacob Michael Waldner, who would have been 65 this Wednesday, was the lone occupant in the trailer.

“The cause of the fire is under investigation, by the coroner’s service, however, the likely cause was a propane powered parabolic heater that had been lit by the owner earlier in the evening,” said Sgt. Dave Voller of the Lake Cowichan RCMP.

Lake Cowichan fire chief Tom Denninger said it didn’t take them that long to put the fire out once they arrived, but the trailer was fully engulfed by that time.

“The trailer was totalled,” said Denninger. “Usually when they get going there’s not much to them and they burn pretty quickly.”

A second alarm was sent to the Youbou Volunteer Fire Department for one of its tanker trucks, which Denninger said was simply as a back up in case they needed more water.

After they put the flames out, firefighters went into what was left of the trailer and found Waldner’s body.

A neighbour two doors down from the fire said he had been watching television when he saw a light outside, through the curtains.

“When I went outside I thought at first that it was the trailer next door,” said the man, who asked that his name not be used. “When I took a few more steps, then I saw the trailer with huge flames burning.”

He used his cell phone to call 911.

“I thought that if anyone was in that trailer there wasn’t much hope that he would survive. I thought later whether there was anything more I could have done, but I know there was nothing I could do nothing to help him.”

Voller said the neighbour did the right thing by staying back. “Otherwise, we would have found two bodies in the trailer,” he said.

25 years ago:

On the front page of The Lake News of Nov. 8, 1994, we learn that Lake Cowichan was to receive [funding for a water services upgrade] $392,372, half each from the federal and provincial governments.

“The village itself must put up $197,686 toward a total budget of $593,058….It is expected that grants under the same program will be made to Duncan, Crofton, Chemainus, and Ladysmith.

“Work can start immediately and should be completed within in the next 18 months,” MLA Jan Pullinger said.

Local employment will be increased by the work. The project consists of protecting water stored in the Indian Road reservoir from contamination by raising and thickening the walls of the reservoir, roofing the structure and adding a high density polyethylene liner to eliminate leaking. The changes will increase storage capacity and prevent contamination.

***

In another item from the same front page, the paper says Danny McLeod, 31, of Chemainus had “the luck of the Irish” to survive a crash with an elk on Highway 18.

“McLeod arrived at the RCMP detachment in Lake Cowichan [shortly before 4 a.m.] with glass in his face and eyes,” said Sgt. Ron Merchant. “He told a story that would have tested the credulity of a leprechaun but the evidence confirmed it.

“His 1985 Pontiac took the big elk squarely in the windshield. McLeod probably ducked mighty fast. The elk crashed through the car and out the back window, smashing even the trunk. The elk was killed. The car was a write-off,” said Sgt. Merchant.

Police called an ambulance and McLeod was taken to Duncan hospital where the glass was removed. He did not appear to suffer lasting injury, Merchant said.

Would anyone, driving one of today’s cars, have survived?

40 years ago:

Well, here it is: my first ever story as a journalist: “Mountain top grave vandalized by bullets, boots” in the Wednesday, Nov. 7, 1979 edition of The Lake News.

It recounted Cary Carnell’s fury and frustration that the mountain-top grave of her dad [Harvey Carnell] had been disturbed by uncaring partygoers.

My, no matter how you look at it, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since that first story, but nothing has dimmed the appeal of hearing people’s stories.

Carnell had told his family that he wanted his ashes scattered in the mountains around the lake but “the family decided that they wanted the ashes in one place, and on July 4, 1976, they put his ashes in a cairn on Big Mesachie Mountain ‘where he could look down on his house and see the whole lake’.”

***

In the main story from that issue of the paper was “Youbou chemical dumping probed: company men, accusers clash over ‘dumping’.

“Federal fisheries officers this week were testing samples of lake water at Youbou [sawmill] after a worker raised a pollution alarm.”

Company officials describe the whole matter as a false alarm. A union official, however, said that fisheries was called because of a report that the company was pumping a chemical-laced solution into Cowichan Lake.

Bill Routley, the Local’s safety chairman, flanked by two fisheries officers, confronted management last Thursday with the accusation that the dumping of chemicals took place that day.

Rick Waller, services supervisor at the British Columbia Forest Products mill, and personnel manager Mike Mergens both denied the charge. They characterized the accusation as being without foundation.

They said that although a holding tank into which the preservative known as woodbrite is spilled was pumped out, the holding tank contained no chemicals. This was confirmed by a technician…it was wholly rainwater and water which earlier had spilled in when a water line had burst. The tank itself had not been in use for six days, Waller said.

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