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Elderly occupants escape early-morning fire that destroys Merville house

Firefighters hampered by snow on ground, unplowed driveway; community rallies to help couple

Oyster River Fire Rescue had a busy morning Friday, responding to six calls for service by noon, including an early-morning fire that levelled a house in Merville — just north of Courtenay — with a couple escaping with only the clothes on their backs.

The fire department was called to Winn Road, where they found a single-family house on fire at approximately 6:45 a.m.

When fire crews arrived, the structure was fully engulfed in flames, but the occupants, an elderly couple, were safely outside. The structure burned to the ground, despite the efforts of close to 35 firefighters from Oyster River Fire Rescue, Merville Fire Protection Services, the Courtenay Fire Department and four fire engines.

The couple was transported to hospital suffering from suspected smoke inhalation, but have since been released.

“It’s nice to see that the community has already started to rally around the couple in need on social media,” said Chief Bruce Green of Oyster River Fire Rescue.

He said crews were hampered in their response by an unplowed driveway that was about three-quarters of a kilometre long.

“There was a significant amount of snow on the ground. Even our 4X4 truck got stuck halfway up the driveway. That meant the crew had to attach hoses end-to-end — up to 366 metres — to attack the fire,” he said. “Not to mention the crew having to navigate through knee-deep snow.”

He said that while it may not have made a difference to the outcome in this instance, the inability to respond quickly in an emergency, be it fire or medical, could have fatal consequences.

“Every second counts. I urge people to clear their driveways and to help shovel elderly neighbours’ driveways as well,” said Green.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.

parrais@timescolonist.com