British Columbia

Ski resort residents get fire protection for first time

A 2015 fire that destroyed three chalets on Mount Washington galvanized support for a vote to bring fire protection to the Vancouver Island community.

Blaze that destroyed 3 chalets on Vancouver Island mountain fuelled community push for services

Momentum to bring fire protection to Mount Washington increased after three homes in the ski resort community burned to the ground in February 2015. (CHEK News/Facebook)

Fire trucks are ready to battle blazes on Vancouver Island's busiest ski hill for the first time after property owners approved a plan to pay for the service.

In February 2015 three chalets in the Mount Washington resort village burned down as residents stood by helpless.

A vote to put full-time fire service in place was defeated 13 years before that destructive fire.

James Bast, the fire services manager for the Comox Valley Regional District, told On the Island host Gregor Craigie the 2015 blaze galvanized support for a new referendum last year to bring fire protection to the mountain.

"It was best summed up by one of the steering group members who said there was never a more hopeless and helpless feeling than calling 911 while the first (chalet) was burning and having dispatch only able to say I'm sorry, nobody's coming," Bast said.

Bast said until the new service took effect Nov. 29 fire crews were only dispatched to Mount Washington in cases involving an imminent risk to human life, but not to property. 

Now, Oyster River Fire Rescue, located near the base of the mountain, will respond to 911 calls for structural fires.

Under the new fire services bylaw a fire hall will also be built on Mount Washington and equipped with a truck and other equipment for use by the Oyster River fire crews.

Full-time Mount Washington residents will also be trained as volunteer firefighters, with the potential to become an independent fire hall in the future.

For now the 35-minute drive up the mountain from the Oyster River detachment means the service will provide a "defensive firefighting capability," Bast said.

"That is, we may not save the structure of origin, but we'll have the opportunity to save other structures, as was apparent from the last fire."