Dave Buzzard’s first thought was that it was raining outside when he heard a crackling sound from his roof, but when he looked out the window and saw the orange glow on nearby trees he realized that his cedar shingles were on fire.
It was Tuesday night, (June 17), and they had a fire going in the fireplace to ward off colder weather.
His wife called 9-1-1, and then Buzzard — after saving his most expensive camera equipment — started to fight the blaze. The Emerald Drive house was built in the 1970s by a logger, who installed taps in every closet for such an eventuality.
Dave Buzzard sprayed water from inside the house, while his wife Joyce went outside to turn the hose on the roof until Whistler Fire Services arrived between 10 and 15 minutes later. Dave says he believes that effort was enough to prevent the fire from getting further out of hand before fire services arrived.
The house was evacuated shortly afterwards while firefighters attacked the blaze on the roof.
The initial call was made at 10:30 p.m., and assistant fire chief Jeff Playfair says the main firefighting operations continued until 1 a.m. with roughly 24 firefighters on the job, although firefighters stayed for another hour as they searched the roof for any signs of burning cedar shakes.
“The roof is fully damaged, but the house structure is fine,” said Playfair. He said the unique structure of the house limited the extent of the fire and water damage.
“Everything between the tongue and groove assembly… that supports the roof and the roof itself is destroyed, but everything below is fine, other than some water and smoke damage.”
The construction also allowed firefighters to take additional steps to control damage to the interior of the house, removing valuable items and covering some areas with plastic.
Playfair investigated Wednesday morning and believes the blaze was the result of a chimney fire that spread to the cedar shakes, or the result of spark from the chimney.
“It’s a very typical 1970s-style roof in Whistler, like you would see for a lot of homes that age,” he said.
Dave Buzzard praised the firefighters for their response.
“The upstairs is pretty much totalled, but the downstairs seemed to do okay,” said Buzzard. “I have to hand it to the fire department, they were able to put plastic over a lot of stuff so my computers and camera equipment should be fine. Some of the pictures on the walls are in rough shape, but without those guys it could have been a lot worse, they were really on it.”
The Buzzards and their roommate spent their first night at Whistler Village Suites, with assistance from Whistler Community Services Society’s emergency social services program and property owner Gord Leidal. Buzzard says he was impressed by how quickly and professionally services were offered, and by the generosity of those services.
With the insurance investigator flying in from Toronto, Buzzard now anticipates several months of living in hotels while their claim is evaluated and house is rebuilt.
“I’ve been a news photographer for 12 years, and I’ve seen a lot of houses go up,” he said. “We’ll pull through it. Everyone is healthy and financially we will be all right. We’re certainly far, far better off that other people that have had their houses burn down in Whistler.”
As always, Playfair says there are lessons that can be learned from the incident.
“If the fire was started in the chimney and blew sparks on the roof, I’d say the number one thing that people can do is to keep their chimney clean — that’s a minimum of once a year cleaning, and if you’re burning a lot of wood it could be eight to 12 weeks,” he said.
“If it’s simply a random spark, which is possible, then cedar can be easy to catch on fire. The shakes I saw were fairly old, and they’re only good for 20 to 25 years. If the shakes were older, some may have been a little rotten and were more prone to fire.
“Also, the house was in a treed area, so you get a lot of pine needles on the roof which adds more potential fuel to the fire. Keep your roof clean, and keep your roof in good condition — if that means replacing the roof, then you should go about that. If you’re using cedar, consider using cedar treated with a fire retardant, although it’s not as good from an environmental perspective. Getting a metal roof is the best option, although other types of roofs are good as well.”