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Fire service responds to two house fires

Serious fires in Alpine, Alta Vista make busy weekend for firefighters

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Whistler Fire Services had an unusually busy weekend responding to house fires on Friday and Saturday.

The first incident was reported after 2:30 p.m. at 8337 Rainbow Drive in Alpine Meadows.

The tenants and owners of the home noticed smoke shortly after one of the tenants started a fire in the wood stove. They called 911, and fire crews were at the scene in less than 10 minutes.

According to Whistler Fire Chief Bruce Hall, the cause of the fire has been identified as pyrolysis, a process where wood that has been exposed to heat over a long period of time changes in composition and becomes more susceptible to ignition. The fire started in the wood that surrounds the chimney near the roof of the house. The heat melted the insulation, giving the fire room to spread through the roof of the house.

It’s hard to anticipate where and when pyrolysis can happen, and the fire is being called an unfortunate accident with neither the owners or the tenants at fault.

Whistler fire services cut a section of roof out to get the fire under control, but there was water and smoke damage to the upper levels of the house, and water damage to the lower levels.

"The guys did a good job in a difficult situation to get the fire under control," said Hall.

The house will not have to be torn down, but the damage will likely require the house to be stripped down to the frame before it can be fixed.

The owners, Gerhard and Christina Reimer, and their 18-month-old child Anthony are currently staying in a hotel but may be moving to a rental property in the next few weeks. It could be five months or more before they will be able to move back into their home.

Christina and Anthony were home at the time of the fire, and Gerhard came home shortly afterwards. With firefighters still battling the fire in the roof, Gerhard and his friends managed to move many of their possessions from the basement suite before it could be damaged by the water. The possessions they weren’t able to save will be covered by their insurance policy.

"We’re really fortunate that this happened during the day and not at night when we were all sleeping," said Gerhard. "Everybody got out safely, and nobody was injured.

"We want to thank everybody for their help. I’d like to thank the fire department for doing an excellent job and saving the house, my friends for pitching in and helping me to move… and for all the assistance and offers for assistance we’ve been getting. The hotel has also been very good to us.

"I’ve lived here for a long time now, and Christina has lived here for a few years. This whole experience has reminded us that we live in a great community, and we’re grateful for all the support we’re getting."

The Reimers’ three tenants were not as lucky. They did not have insurance for their possessions and lost almost everything to smoke and water damage.

All are employed at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which is putting them up in the hotel until they can find new living arrangements.

"I feel badly for them. They don’t have any insurance, so they’re worse off than we are in that sense," said Gerhard.

The second fire occurred late Saturday night in one of the older lakeside cabins to the south of Alta Vista.

The cause of that fire is still being investigated, but the fire appears to be related to an electrical problem.

A woman who was sleeping in the house noticed smoke coming up through her floorboards, and immediately called 911. Firefighters managed to contain the fire to downstairs and one bedroom upstairs, but there was still extensive damage to the house.

According to Hall, Whistler Fire Services was concerned that the house did not have a functioning smoke detector.

"If there’s one thing to get out of this and that’s for every home to have a working smoke detector. Luckily the woman saw the smoke coming up through the floorboards, but if she hadn’t been there or was asleep, the damage could have been much worse," he said.

The fire was also difficult to battle because of the building’s remote location – the nearest hydrant was in Lakeside Park, requiring a lot of hose and the use of a truck at the midway point to keep up the water pressure. Most of the fire was put out by the first crew on the scene with the water they carried, said Hall, but the complicated set up was required to ensure that the fire was completely extinguished.

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