Year in Review: Cowichan’s firefighters were kept busy in 2021

Flames shot out of a window on the fourth floor of Lewis Apartments on Lewis Street on New Year’s Eve. Several people were injured in the fire, and one was killed. (Robert Barron/Citizen)Flames shot out of a window on the fourth floor of Lewis Apartments on Lewis Street on New Year’s Eve. Several people were injured in the fire, and one was killed. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Police, fire, ambulance crews all were at the scene of a fire on the fourth floor of the Lewis Apartments Thursday afternoon. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)Police, fire, ambulance crews all were at the scene of a fire on the fourth floor of the Lewis Apartments Thursday afternoon. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
A mobile home fire in Duncan prompted a quick response from firefighters Saturday, March 6 around 3:30 p.m. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)A mobile home fire in Duncan prompted a quick response from firefighters Saturday, March 6 around 3:30 p.m. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
An old home on Maple Bay Road goes up in flames in July despite the best efforts of firefighters. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)An old home on Maple Bay Road goes up in flames in July despite the best efforts of firefighters. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Smoke and flames rise from a warehouse in the industrial park south of Duncan on Tuesday, July 13. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)Smoke and flames rise from a warehouse in the industrial park south of Duncan on Tuesday, July 13. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Flames tear through a housing block on Dingwall Street Wednesday night, Aug. 25. (Submitted by Daniel Hudson)Flames tear through a housing block on Dingwall Street Wednesday night, Aug. 25. (Submitted by Daniel Hudson)
Firefighters responded to a structure fire at a home on Belvedere Crescent in Sahtlam on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)Firefighters responded to a structure fire at a home on Belvedere Crescent in Sahtlam on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
A young woman died in a fire on the Malahat Nation reserve early in the morning on June 10. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)A young woman died in a fire on the Malahat Nation reserve early in the morning on June 10. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Starting just as the new year began and continuing through 2021, Cowichan Valley firefighters were called to a large number of significant blazes. Fires over the last year tragically claimed not just property, but also a number of lives. Here is a look at significant fires in the Cowichan Valley in 2021.

The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed that one person died following a devastating fire at an apartment building in North Cowichan on New Year’s Eve.

Gerry Dore, 65, who lived in at the Lewis Apartments died in the fire. Others were also taken to hospital, and the fire left many without a place to call home.

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Classes were cancelled at Drinkwater Elementary School on Monday, Jan. 11 after an early morning fire outside the building left halls and classrooms smelling of smoke. A crew from North Cowichan’s South End firehall extinguished the blaze quickly. The fire caused damage to the exterior of the school gym but there was no damage to the interior. The fire was deemed suspicious.

On Jan. 15 another fire was reported at École Mount Prevost just a few blocks away, cancelling classes for the day. That fire was also suspicious. A man was subsequently arrested in connection to both fires.

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An abandoned house burned to the ground south of Duncan early Wednesday morning, Jan. 13. The house next to The Brick along the Trans-Canada Highway was fully engulfed in flames when volunteer firefighters arrived just after 3 a.m.

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A man was transported to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria following a trailer fire in a mobile home park on Saturday, March 6. Firefighters responded quickly to the Duncan RV Park & Campground on Boys Road around 3:30 p.m. after reports of an explosion and flames in a unit on the site. Paramedics were dispatched to tend to one patient, who was out of the unit by the time fire crews arrived. A neighbour told the Citizen the occupant of the mobile home was badly burned.

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Countless hours of work by Gary (The Duck) Drake literally went up in smoke and flames on the Crofton waterfront in April. Drake, known for his many years as an employee at the Crofton Paper Excellence Catalyst pulp mill and getting ready for retirement in about a month, saw a boat he’d been working on completely destroyed. It’s not known what caused the fire, but some sort of electrical problem is the suspected source.

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A young woman died in a house fire on the Malahat Nation reserve early Thursday morning, June 10, after alerting others in the house to the blaze. According to a GoFundMe fundraiser set up to benefit the family, the victim was 18-year-old Lillian Jimmy-Harry. Four others escaped from the burning house.

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North Cowichan’s entire volunteer fire contingent, as well as crews from the Duncan fire department and B.C. Forest Service worked to contain a “routine structure fire” that was anything but routine just west of the entrance to The Properties in Maple Bay in July. Ten vehicles and about 50 firefighters from the Maple Bay, South End, Crofton, Chemainus and Duncan fire halls tackled a blaze in a two-storey wood-frame house at 1580 Maple Bay Rd. that quickly spread to the adjacent bushes and, thanks to the dry conditions and wind, threatened to spread to a nearby neighbourhood. The house was unoccupied.

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A North Cowichan man is dead and his mother is in hospital after fire tore through a property on Hall Road on Tuesday night, July 20. According to a GoFundMe page launched on Wednesday afternoon, Nate Haslam died in the fire, and his mother, Rebecca, suffered a heart attack. The pair lived in separate dwellings on the property.

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The Duncan Volunteer Fire Department put down a fire near the Silver Bridge over the Cowichan River on Thursday, Aug. 12 that the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP say was the result of an arson.

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Kathleen August’s young son Vincent, six, was helicoptered to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver to be treated for burns and smoke inhalation as a result of the Aug. 25 Dingwall Street townhouse fire. Shortly afterwards, it was reported that Vincent was healing well. Flames tore through the Four Cedars townhouse complex around 10:40 p.m., displacing many of those who lived there and sending six residents to Cowichan District Hospital, with one, young Vincent, in serious condition.

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A home in Sahtlam was completely destroyed by a fire in September. Firefighters were called to the house on Belvedere Crescent around 3:30 p.m. According to Sahtlam volunteer fire chief Randy Busch, the call initially came in as a fire on the outside of the laundry room, but as firefighters headed to the hall, it was upgraded to a structure fire. “When they arrived on the scene, it was fully involved. It was all along the top of the house, up the wall where the laundry room was.”

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A fire at a church on Brae Road in Duncan on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 21 is being considered suspicious. No one was injured in the fire, which broke out around 8 a.m. in the Brae Road Gospel Chapel, but damage to the building was extensive. The cause is being investigated by the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP and the Duncan fire inspector.

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Gilles Gaudreau woke up in bed at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2 to the smell of smoke in his home in Youbou. It was determined that the fire was caused by an electrical problem and it engulfed an entire side of Gaudreau’s house causing thousands of dollars of damage before the Youbou fire department put it out. Gaudreau did not have insurance to cover repairs, but community members stepped up to help him out.

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A five-year-old boy died after suffering burns to more than 35 per cent of his body following a house fire on Halloween night in Cowichan. Enzo Wilson, the youngest of Phil and Loretta Wilson’s seven kids, suffered the injuries when his family’s home on Miller Road burned on Oct. 31.

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After years of work and consultations, the Cowichan Valley Regional District has finally adopted the official community plan for its electoral areas. The adoption of the OCP creates a single guiding document for the nine unincorporated communities of the Cowichan region.

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A fire inside Pioneer Square Mall in Mill Bay closed the Trans-Canada Highway in both directions briefly on Friday afternoon, Nov. 26, shortly after 1 p.m. The building is unoccupied.

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Kevin Mowat is baffled by what could have caused the fire that destroyed the trailer he, his wife Katie and eight-year-old son Liam were living in on Dec. 6. Mowat said he and his family had been living in the mobile home on a friend’s farm for many months after they were evicted from their apartment when their landlord sold the property. On Dec. 6, Mowat moved the trailer to a new location on Tzouhalem Road, and before unpacking everything they own, the family decided to head out for some lunch. That’s when they got the news that the trailer had gone up in flames.

2021 Year in Review