Rob and Brenda Harris were in New Orleans at a dry cleaning conference when the bad news came.
They were in Louisiana learning new ways to improve their business, White Hat Drycleaners and Commercial Laundry, but instead they were forced to fly home early after fire gutted their store at 601-11th Avenue.
“It was the longest flight home ever – we’re still in a state of shock,” Brenda said Monday.
Investigators believe an electrical problem ignited the blaze which incinerated just about everything inside the store and also damaged at least two neighbouring plaza businesses: Stonehouse Teas and St. Jean’s Cannery and Smokehouse.
Fire crews were alerted to the blaze on Saturday at 12:14 a.m. When they arrived, flames were leaping 10 metres into the air from the one-storey structure.
The Campbell River Fire Department responded with 31 firefighters, three engines and a ladder truck, along with other emergency vehicles.
There wasn’t much they could do to save the dry cleaning business, but they did manage to control flames from spreading to several businesses packed into the downtown block.
“We got to it just in time,” said Fire Chief Ian Baikie, as he and others investigated the cause of the blaze later Saturday morning.
White Hat was the only dry cleaning business in the entire North Island. Even clothes from the Harris’ White Hat store in Comox came to Campbell River to be cleaned.
“We’re it,” said Brenda, who expressed concern for the 12 employees in Campbell River who are temporarily out of work.
However, Brenda said she and her husband are working hard to find a temporary location and they’ve received tremendous support from other dry cleaners down Island as well as the community.
“I’ve never been through a fire like this,” she said. “Everyone has been amazing. We’ve had so many offers of help.”
Rob and Brenda Harris are well-known in Campbell River for their philanthropic efforts in supporting the Kinsmen along with the local hospice society, collecting winter coats for the needy, and helping out other charitable causes.
This is their 19th year in business.