The devastation was clear one day later.
A popular Whiskey Creek pit stop for ice cream and road trippers on Vancouver Island was completely devastated by a massive blaze on Thursday (June 17).
A release from the Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department read that the fire started at the Mid-Island Co-Op at 3:49 p.m., and on arrival firefighters noted the blaze, which had started from a motor vehicle at a fuel pump, quickly spread to the overhead canopy and convenience store. The store sustained significant damage the blaze but remained isolated to one structure.
Officials said that thanks to the quick thinking of Co-op staff members, they were able to activate the emergency shutoff for the fuel pumps and safely evacuate the building. No one was injured during the incident.
The lieutenant of fire prevention and training with the Coombs-Hilliers VFD, Theresa Benoit, said the highway had to be immediately shut down to allow for emergency vehicles access to the site.
“We rely on water supply from mutual areas, so fire departments sent in water tenders because we don’t have hydrants locally… We needed to keep our crews sae and allow them space to work.”
A total of nine fire departments responded to the blaze from neighbouring municipalities, with more than 50 firefighters on scene to control the fire and provide support for water supply.
Fire crews worked until 10:20 p.m. on fire suppression to put out any remaining hotspots.
Benoit said this was the first time, in her experience, that the Coombs-Hilliers fire department handled a gas station fire in the area, though they have had similar experiences with providing mutual aid to other surrounding departments.
While the fire’s origin was reported to be the motor vehicle, the exact cause remains under investigation. According to the release, it appears the fire was accidental.
Cpl. Travis Strong with the Oceanside RCMP said that one of their Highway Patrol members arrived on the scene within a minute of the vehicle (described as an older motorhome) catching fire, and saw it spread to the building. He said the officer was hoping to put the fire out with his extinguisher, but was too far gone to put out by hand by the time he arrived.
Strong said that since the fire was not of suspicious origins, they will not need to continue with the investigation.
Police were in attendance to initially help with evacuating the area and containing the scene, but as more of their resources became available they helped to keep the public away from a downed hydro line and provide traffic control.
Friday morning, Matt Smith, a nearby resident, said he was sad to see such a staple of his childhood go up in flames. He stopped by the scene to witness the destruction and take a last look at what remains. He said the gas station was a ‘trademark’ stop in the area, and hopes it gets rebuilt.
Regional District of Nanaimo Area F (Coombs, Hilliers, Errington, Whiskey Creek, Meadowood) director Leanne Salter said the fire is devastating for the community.
”I am extremely heavy-hearted to see this historic landmark destroyed. We will all miss the ice cream, and the convenience of stopping for dry goods and gas on the way to the West Coast,” she wrote in an email to the PQB News.
She also expressed her gratitude for the quick action and support from all firefighters in the area.
Ian Anderson, CEO of Mid-Island Co-Op, confirmed to PQB News that all staff members were safe and accounted for, and that the company plans to support them through this challenging time. He said the number of staff members employed at the Whiskey Creek station varies seasonally.
“We’d like to acknowledge and thank the multiple fire departments that responded, and for all the dedicated personnel who worked to keep our team members, customers and community safe,” said Anderson.
He added that, at this point, there are no set plans to rebuild the station, but they will provide more information on the possibility in the future.
“Our real focus is supporting the staff and looking after our team members,” he said.
– will be updated