IRISHTOWN-SUMMERSIDE — The RCMP has confirmed that the cause of the fire that destroyed the community hall in Irishtown-Summerside early Thursday morning is believed to have been electrical in nature.
The scene was turned over to the RCMP and the Fie Commissioner’s Office for investigation around midday Thursday.
Sgt. Terry Foster of the Corner Brook detachment of the RCMP said Friday morning that arson investigators have determined the fire was accidental and seems to have been caused by the roughly 30-year-old building’s electrical system. Foster said the investigation into the fire is closed and the scene is now in the hands of either the town or its insurance company.
Karen Specker, who lives right next door to the hall, could not believe what she woke up to Thursday morning.
Although the initial fire call came in at around 3:15 a.m. and 26 volunteer firefighters from the town and neighbouring Meadows were concerned about making sure the fire did not spread to the adjacent property, Specker and her family were unaware of the emergency until they woke up at their regular time of around 7 a.m.
“(Specker’s husband) Dave got up and smelled smoke and said there were a lot of fire trucks outside,” Specker said as she surveyed her property for damage shortly after 8:30 a.m. “We went out and checked it out. It was still dark and we never realized it was as bad as it was.
“I’m a bit shocked. No one has still come over to talk to us.”
Fortunately, there did not appear to be any damage to the family’s shed, which was only a couple of metres from the burning building, or to the house which was just another few metres away. The family’s car and the ground was covered in soot and ash.
Rick Parsons, chief of the Hughes Brook-Irishtown-Summerside Volunteer Fire Department, said the Speckers were never in any danger, despite the concerted effort to ensure the fire would not spread beyond the town hall. He said if winds were any stronger than the 14 km/h west-southwesterly breeze that was fanning the fire, the Speckers and other homes in that direction would have been evacuated immediately.
“The fire was controlled, to a point, in that area of the structure (that could have affected the adjacent house),” he said.
The fire was reported by someone clear across the Humber Arm in Corner Brook who had noticed a small fire on the north shore of the Bay of Islands that seemed to be getting larger.
Ironically, the town hall is located right next door to the fire hall. By the time firefighters arrived on the scene, the wooden building — which housed the town office and space for meetings and recreational activities — was engulfed.
Parsons said it took until around 6 a.m. to gain full control of the large fire. He suspected the fire had started towards the end of the building facing the bay since that was the area that had sustained the most damage.
The RCMP also said that is where they believe the fire initially ignited.
“When it went through the roof,” he replied when asked what the most challenging part of fighting the fire was. “Then we had a bit of wind coming in the bay. That was hampering our efforts considerably, with the fire being up in the shingles and so on.”
Mayor Clarence Diamond was summoned from his slumber around 4 a.m. and couldn’t believe what he was hearing until arriving at the scene a short time later and seeing the damage for himself.
“There was no disbelief when I got here,” he said. “It was pretty clear it was gone.”
Fortunately, the town clerk backs up all files digitally on a regular basis and stores them outside of the town office, so Diamond said most town records should still exist. There may be some older archived paper documents that have been lost, though, he noted.
The town council will have to convene as soon as possible to discuss the situation, but Diamond figures that meeting won’t happen until Monday or Tuesday.
“We’ll have to contact our insurance company first and see where we can go from here,” said the mayor.
In an emailed response to the situation, the Department of Municipal Affairs said the rebuilding of the community hall will be something the town will have to explore with its insurance company, but the department will assist with the recovery of budgets and other records where possible.