British Columbia

Retired firefighter recalls fiery history of Prince Rupert, B.C.

Flames recently engulfed three historic houses in downtown Prince Rupert, B.C. These are just a few of the many old wooden buildings the city has seen destroyed by fires over the last 30 years. 

'It's history gone,' Brian Hadland says of three historic homes that recently went up in flames

Three houses are damaged following a fire on Third Avenue West in Prince Rupert, B.C. on June 12. (Kim St. Pierre)

Flames recently engulfed three historic war-era houses in downtown Prince Rupert, B.C. They were just a few of the many old wooden buildings the city has seen destroyed by fires over the last three decades.

Brian Hadland, a retired firefighter whose career spanned over 30 years and who is now caretaker of Prince Rupert's Fire Museum, has witnessed many of the blazes. 

"I was kind of shocked and disappointed to see them go … they're landmarks," Hadland told Carolina de Ryk, host of Daybreak North.

One of the houses that burned down June 12 was built between 1913 and 1920, according to the Prince Rupert City and Regional Archives.

Before he became a firefighter, Hadland worked for Canadian National Railway in its old facility by Kwinitsa Station on the north side of the Skeena River, a 45-minute drive from Prince Rupert. 

He was away on his honeymoon when it caught fire and burned down. Hadland returned to a smouldering terminal and no job.

That's when he decided to be a firefighter.

Decades of fires

Hadland's first major fire was the Rupert Hotel fire in 1976.

"I was volunteering at the time and a person was standing on the sidewalk looking up at the building as the flames [burned] through the roof. He put his hand on my shoulder and he said, 'Don't even think about it. It's gone.'"

Hadland fought in many other historic fires, such as the Waldron Apartment fire in 1986, the Savoy Hotel fire in 1989, the Kaien Sports/Fashion and Footwear fire in 1989, McMillan Fisheries in 2002 and the Elizabeth Apartments in 2004. 

Carelessness

Hadland says the human costs of these fires are tragic, and the loss of the historic structures take something away from the community.

"You're losing the heritage of your ancestors that have worked and slaved to build these buildings. It's history gone."

Handland says many of the fires that destroyed Prince Rupert's old wooden structures were caused by human carelessness. They have been started by candles, unsafe chimneys, wood stoves, cigarette smoking and falling asleep with lit cigarettes. 

Prince Rupert is working with insurance companies and the homeowners to have the burned buildings from the recent Third Avenue fire removed in the interests of public health and safety.

The investigation into the cause of the fire is still ongoing, according to Prince Rupert Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Beckwith.

Listen to the full interview here:

A massive fire recently engulfed three historic homes in downtown Prince Rupert. We talk to one of the city's retired firefighters about the fiery history of the port city. 6:52

With files from Daybreak North.

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