A fire on Sunday afternoon reduced a two-storey house at 2250 Joanne Drive to a burned-out shell. Photo from Campbell River Fire Department/Twitter

UPDATE: Fast-burning construction materials fuelled Willow Point blaze – fire chief

Curious onlookers created challenges for emergency crews; fundraising effort underway for family

Fire destroyed a home in the Willow Point area of Campbell River on Sunday, and a fundraising effort is now underway for the displaced family of four. The blaze, which quickly consumed the house, is an example of newer construction materials burning quickly, according to fire chief Thomas Doherty. He also said that curious onlookers posed a challenge for emergency crews.

The Campbell River Fire Department responded to the fire just after 12:30 p.m. As they approached the house, located at 2250 Joanne Drive, a large column of black smoke could be seen from a distance.

“[The] two-story residential building was fully engulfed, with heavy smoke and fire coming out of all levels, all windows, all openings,” said Doherty as firefighters wrapped up their operation on Sunday afternoon.

Firefighters didn’t attempt to enter the home, but engaged in a “defensive attack,” working on the fire from outside and spraying the outer walls of nearby homes with water.

They managed to keep the blaze from spreading to neighbouring homes, but the siding had melted on the wall of a house that was visible from the street.

Nearby hedges had also been reduced to cinders, and a grey Honda Civic parked in the driveway of the destroyed home also appeared to be gutted by flames.

Doherty said that two residents were at home when the fire broke out. They were able to exit the building unharmed and call 911 at a neighbour’s house. He confirmed that nobody was injured in the fire, but said that a kitten was unaccounted for.

The cause of the fire remains unknown, but investigators will be examining the building in the coming days, he said. Doherty later noted in a media release that the fire wasn’t considered suspicious.

Asked about the prospects of the burned-out shell of a home, he said it was likely a “total loss” that would be demolished after investigation. He said on Tuesday that a damage estimate wasn’t yet available.

He also said that Emergency Support Services had been notified to ensure the family would be cared for the 72 hours following the fire.

Area residents watched from the street as firefighters used a tower truck to spray the building from above, while other firefighters hosed down the smoldering ruins from the ground. There were 13 firefighters on-scene, along with police and ambulance workers.

As he surveyed the scene, Doherty took a took a moment to emphasize the importance of smoke alarms.

“The occupants did indicate their smoke alarms did activate, which is good,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of always having an alternative exit, noting that the occupants knew how to get out of the burning structure.

Jet Everett, 17, who lives next door to the destroyed home, said he got a call from his mother, who was out fishing when she heard about the fire, at around 12:30 p.m.

“I immediately jumped outside to look at the neighbour’s house, and it was just soaring,” he said. “It was engulfed.”

He woke up his brothers, grabbed everything he could, including the family dogs and some clothes, and left the house, which wasn’t damaged by the fire.

Karissa Everett, Jet’s mother, said she expected the community would rally to support the family whose home had been reduced to ruins.

“Sometimes when the community hears about incidents like this, they really wrap around families,” she said. “That’s one good thing about Campbell River.”

The homeowners were later identified online as Hendrick and Catherine Horsthuis. A staff member at Penfield Elementary – where Hendrick served as prinicipal – launched a GoFundMe page to support the family.

The page, created on Monday, had raised over $2,400 by 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Readers can donate to the effort at gofundme.com/horsthuis-family-fire-relief-fund.

The blaze is an example of newer homes burning quickly, Doherty said in a media release on Tuesday.

“Newer, modern construction materials burn faster, which has changed fire dynamics,” he said.

It used to take between eight and 14 minutes for fires to ignite other nearby materials in a process known as “flashover,” said Doherty. But with newer construction materials, that can take as little as two or three minutes, he said.

“This fire was an example of the changing fire dynamics of newer home construction materials and the importance of early detection, early notification to the fire department and a quick response time from the fire department,” he said.

He also said the highly visible fire resulted in traffic for firefighters to navigate as curious onlookers gathered on the Willow Point street.

“There was a significant amount of traffic and vehicles parking on both sides of the street, which created additional challenges for emergency crews,” said Doherty.

Smoke from the fire was reportedly visible from as far as Quadra Island.


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Firefighters battled a house fire in Willow Point on Sunday. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror