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Volunteers from three departments answer call to Carbonear blaze

By Mark Squibb/April 21, 2022

Just weeks after the provincial and federal governments announced over a million dollars in funding for the downtown revitalization, downtown Carbonear was the site of destruction as a fire raged in a Water Street apartment building for almost 12 hours.

Thick coils of acrid smoke poured out of the building as volunteer firefighters from three separate departments battled the blaze. Hundreds of spectators descended upon Water Street to watch the blaze and get photos. Upon returning home, folks in some parts of town soon discovered, maybe as they went to put their smoky clothes in the washer, that they had no water pressure.

Frank Butt, Carbonear mayor and active member of the Carbonear Volunteer Fire Department, was one of what he estimates to probably have been about 45 emergency personnel on the scene.

“I’m not an adjuster, but I’ve been to a lot of fires, and I think those two buildings are gone,” said Butt. “I don’t think there’ll be any renovations that can salvage the buildings. That’s just my opinion.”

Firefighters arrived at the scene around 7 p.m. Thursday night. Smoke had already begun to pour from the building’s eaves, and inside the building flames were visible. A team went in to battle the blaze on the upper floor. Firefighters did a search of the apartments, and found nobody inside. As the fire escalated, firefighters had to pull out and battle the fire from the street.

Volunteer firefighters from Victoria and Salmon Cove Departments were called in to lend a hand, and for hours crews pumped water into the blaze — drawing, Butt estimated, about a thousand gallons of water a minute.

“It certainly played havoc on our water supply and because of that, water pressure in different parts of town was deceased, especially on the hills,” said Butt.

Around three in the morning, crews thought they had the situation under control, as they could detect no smouldering amongst the buildings’ ruins. They headed back to the fire hall, cleaned their gear, debriefed, went home, showered up, fell into bed — and awoke to the sound of the alarm.

“I looked out the window, because where I am I could see it, and it was ablaze again,” said Butt. “So, I’m not quite sure what happened there, but that will all come out in the investigation.”

The Crews went out to battle the fire once again, and got it under control in the early morning hours of Good Friday.

Butt said that two people, one renting on the second floor and another renting on the third floor, were displaced due to the fire.

He said he talked with both of them Thursday evening.

“What they had on is what they had left,” said Butt. “They pretty much lost everything in the fire. One person did have a vehicle, and that’s basically where he was staying at the time.”

The Sewing Room, found on the ground level floor, was also lost in the blaze. The abandoned building alongside the apartment building was also gutted by the fire. The nearby Cold Water Restaurant suffered minor smoke damage, but was able to open Friday afternoon. Butt wasn’t aware of any other nearby buildings that sustained damage.

As volunteers battled the blaze Thursday night and Friday morning, other volunteers were busy bringing donations of food and water to the fire hall.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal, the number of businesses and residents that contributed food, coffee, and donuts, whatever,” said Butt. “I mean, it was unreal. And we needed it. A lot of people on Thursday evening were getting ready to have BBQ’s with their families, as it is the Easter season, and a lot of people were getting ready to go out to functions and have late suppers, so basically we had a lot of firefighters there from all the departments that were about to eat, but didn’t eat, and needed something to sustain their energy. And the amount of food that came in was unreal, and I just can’t thank the people and businesses enough.”

Not surprisingly, the fire drew a number of spectators, as folks descended upon downtown Carbonear to see the blaze for themselves.

Police guarded barricades at both ends of Water Street to keep people out of the emergency zone.

Butt said that as those barricades are there for the public’s safety, it’s best to give them a wide berth, keep your distance from the scene, and let firefights and first responders do their job.

“You’re not focusing on crowd control,” said Butt. “You’re focusing on trying to put the fire out. And you don’t want to bang into people, so that’s why we try to set up a perimeter as big as we need, to ensure that we can move freely back and forth.”

A big problem is the potential for traffic snarls as people flood the scene in their vehicles.

“We prefer that they wouldn’t follow the emergency vehicles,” said Butt. “Let’s say the Fire Department gets there first, and you have 40 or 50 cars following to see what’s going on, next thing you have your first responders coming in, the ambulance, and they just cannot get to the scene quick enough, or they might have to park back a fair bit. So, at all fire scenes, don’t chase the emergency vehicles. Give them plenty of room. Certainly, don’t bring your vehicles into the area, because that’s only just going to cause chaos.”

Butt said, as of Monday morning, the RCMP investigation was ongoing.

The event will likely turn some folks’ minds back to April, 2014, when fire ravished the old Bond Theatre, and to other fires that have burned on historic Water Street throughout the past century, beginning with the fire that burned the Old Post Office to the ground in 1904.

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