MACDOUGALLS, PARADISE PARK – The Codroy Valley Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fire last Tuesday, Apr. 13, along with the Channel-Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department who were also called roughly 15 minutes afterwards.
“Well I got the call at 1:16 in the afternoon of a structure fire that was fully engulfed,” says Codroy Valley Fire Chief Brian Osmond, who was commander on scene.
The 911 caller, Jody Spencer, identified a cabin in the MacDougalls/Paradise Park area that was completely ablaze and also observed that trees and brush in the immediate surrounding area had begun to smoke and burn.
“I thought it was somebody in the Valley burning tires, but when we passed Coopers Brook and turned to look, you could see that it was a house on fire,” said Spencer.
“I paged out the guys,” reported Osmond via a phone interview the next day, ”and we had our first truck there very shortly after that.”
The Fire Chief also stated that there was a propane tank at the scene of the conflagration, and as the truck approached the scene the firefighters actually heard the tank explode.
“It was a 20 pounder,” said Osmond. “We heard it go off, and we pretty well knew it was the tank going off.”
So did Spencer, who had stayed nearby after calling 911.
“It sounded like a big bang, like louder than a gunshot,” said Spencer.
A 20 lb. propane cylinder typically used on barbecues holds 170 cubic feet of propane gas, but because it is holding a liquid, the cylinder is only roughly two cubic feet in size. That 170 cubic feet of propane, in this case stored on the back deck, could have resulted in a cloud of 1,800 – 7,100 cubic feet of flammable gas/air mixture.
The pumper truck that was first on scene carries about 1,000 gallons of water, which may sound like a lot, but Osmond clarified that a truck can empty in quite a hurry.
“It didn’t last very long,” he admitted.
Most modern pumper trucks are capable of dispersing 1,000 to 1,500 gallons per minute depending on the pressure used, meaning the first crew on the scene was able to use the water on board for about three or four minutes before the tank was emptied.
“They arrived in that first truck, and made their initial assessment. They then deployed their lines on the forest behind the structure, which was already fully engulfed when they got there. So they put the majority of the first water there to put out the trees that were already on fire and prevent it from going further into the woods,” said Osmond.
The area of the fire was in an enclosed wooded area, and the tree line sits approximately 40 feet behind the cabin.
Another concern was that the power to the cabin was still on. Luckily a crew from NL Power working in the area were immediately dispatched to the scene to deal with the hazard. Nick Evans was one of the two line workers who arrived to cut the power.
“We got the call, around 1:30 or so, and we had to come and cut that power so they could put water on the house.”
While assessing the scene, Evans said there was no danger to the public, and that it was just that one service wire that had to be cut off.
“Not a fun day,” noted Evans, who estimated that from the time they arrived to the time he and his partner, Holly Earle, were finished, was not more than 10 minutes.
The RCMP also responded to the 911 call.
“We were informed by the RCMP on the scene that there was nobody in the house, and there were no injuries.”
The weather at the time was quite mild, but the wind was another hindrance for the firefighters, with gusts in the area reaching 50 to 60 kph and directing the fire towards the tree line.
“It was a big concern. It was breezing up pretty good, and that would keep of course keep fanning the fire, keep it going,” stated Osmond.
After the first fire truck was empty, Osmond said they withdrew to allow a second truck to take over. While it may sound counter-intuitive for a fire crew to leave an active scene, without water on their truck the crew was unable to remain effective. Their only available water was off site, so the truck left to refill as quickly as possible.
Shortly after the second Codroy Valley fire truck arrived, the Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department arrived in their pumper truck as well, having received a call to assist from Emergency services. To facilitate the efficiency of the crews, Port-a-Tanks were set up at the scene. The Port-a-Tank is a folded canvas “pool” that can hold approximately 1,500 gallons said Osmond. ”So we always had water on the scene.”
The nearest water source was a pond in the area, but it was much too far for working the fire, and Osmond said the holding tank was invaluable in the effort to control the blaze. The Fire Chief estimated the firefighters dispensed 20,000 gallons of water to douse the fire.
Thanks to the efforts of both fire departments and approximately thirty firefighters, control of the fire was achieved within an hour and a half. None of the responders or onlookers suffered any injuries or smoke inhalation. Another concern when battling a fire is water.
“I always say there’s water in the valley, but its hard to get to.”
There are areas in the valley that are designated as water fill sites, including down at MacDougalls.
“We have a couple there,” admitted Osmond. “But overall it’s the same problem wherever we go. The closest fill site at this fire was about a kilometre and a half away.”
After the crews left the scene, sometime around 8:00 p.m., they had to flush out their truck tanks. The water they had taken on board to fight the fire was a mix of fresh and salt water, which must be fully eliminated from the tanks to ensure there is no possibility of corrosion.
Chief Osmond also expressed his gratitude to the volunteers who brought food and drinks for his firefighters, saying it was very much appreciated, and a welcome treat.