On Jan. 6 at midnight a fire broke out at Ladysmith Maritime Society docks. The fire spread to other boathouses destroying seven boathouses and five vessels, 100 feet of dock. Decking was scorched on another 100 feet of main dock and on one finger. During the evacuation a man collapsed on the deck of his boat and later died after having been taken to hospital by ambulance. Damage is estimated at approximately $2 million making this one of the costliest fires in the town’s history. Cause of the fire is still under investigation. Rob Pinkerton was there and here is his account of that terrible night.
By ROB PINKERTON
The phone rang just before one in the morning. There is always that feeling of unease and dread as you stumble out of bed to answer at that hour. A friend told me that the Ladysmith Maritime Society docks were on fire and I should see to my boat. As I approached the Expo Legacy building, I could make out dense smoke and flames coming from the seaward end of the docks. I wove my way through three ladder and pumper trucks and smaller vehicles all with emergency lights rotating and flashing. A couple of firefighters standing in the heavy rain watched me go by. Parking my truck, I made my way down the dark stairway to the lower parking lot. Groups of firefighters dressed in full gear stood quietly together among three more trucks. Ladysmith’s Fire Chief Ray Delcourt and a lieutenant stood at the head of the ramp talking on radios with those on the docks. A hose from the hydrant in the upper lot snaked down the bank and attached to a pumper truck. From the truck, a charged hose continued down the docks to a portable hydrant and then split; one hose to the center dock and the other to the north dock where the fire was burning. At the far end of the middle LMS dock, the stream from the hose arched up and over to the wall of flame on the northern dock. Toxic smoke billowed and rolled away to the south and fire, higher at times than the boathouse roofs, showed the marina in a weird flickering light.
Four firefighters were given instructions. I watched them recheck their gear and start down the dock. Soon only their headlamps could be seen as the made their way towards the northern area where the boathouses were on fire. I wondered what thoughts had gone through their minds as they waited in the pouring rain for their turn to come. About ten minutes later, the headlamps of the crew that was relieved appeared. They said little when they arrived, struggling out of breathing apparatus and other gear. Alarms jangled on their regulators signifying that they were almost out of air and were shut off. Some shed their heavy coats and steam rose from their overheated bodies. Water and energy drinks were gulped and paramedics checked their heart rates. I tried to imagine the situation they had just left. They would be in the small space between the rows of boathouses, facing a wall of fire. They could not see around the end of the burning houses and could not see what was happening beyond their immediate area. They all knew that besides fuel tanks of gasoline, diesel and flaming fiberglass, propane bottles, aerosol cans, paint cans and other unknowns were certainly there. As boats inside burned, the aluminum boathouse walls melted beside them. A firefighter on the nozzle would have his partner directly behind him, feeding him slack and taking the weight of the hose. Behind them another of the team would be watching for dangers and assessing the attack. Another would be helping to change air bottles and fueling the hot generator that ran a seawater pump that could not be shut down as it may not start again. The roar and crackling of the fire, popping as unknown things exploded, the poison smoke rolling away with smoldering embers in it. I would think heart rates might be somewhat elevated. They are trained to keep their breathing at a steady rate as you go through your air bottle very fast if you get excited.
In the parking lot, the firefighters talked among themselves and put fresh air bottles in their breathing apparatus. The rain was steady and hard and was probably extinguishing those flying cinders. The trucks shined wet in the pulsing lights. Another team was sent to relieve the crew on the hose on the middle dock and they soon arrived, tense and quiet.
It had been about an hour since I had arrived. The fire was being beaten down and suddenly was out. Now those guys on the front lines were in the dark except for headlamps. I was wet and getting cold so decided to go home. With a dull “whump”, a ball of fire shot up, twice as high as the boathouses, illuminating the towering smoke. A fuel tank full of gasoline? As I climbed up the hill, the flames slowly died down as they were cooled by the firefighters.
Arriving on the scene at around midnight, they worked until seven in the morning and then had to clean and service their gear back at the station. Twenty-six firefighters from Ladysmith, eight from Chemainus and six from North Oyster fire department responded. I have heard it said that this fire was the largest and most dangerous that many of these men have faced. Watching their team work and skills impressed me greatly and I think they did a magnificent job.