Well-known Hornby Island cabin destroyed by fire

A small glass-fronted wooden cabin near the south edge of Hornby Island has been destroyed by a fire that taxed firefighters because of its remote and difficult-to-access location.

The caretaker for the 600-square-foot building escaped unharmed and stayed the night with a friend. The man’s Basenji- cross dog and two young cats are also safe. Local residents are caring for the cats for now.

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It appears the fire was caused by a wood stove and chimney failure, Fire Chief Doug Chinnery said Wednesday.

“It’s a total loss.”

Firefighters had a difficult job tackling the blaze. The cabin is at the base of a 100-metre steep slope, accessed by a “goat” trail with “many, many switchbacks,” he said.

The cabin was a local landmark. “It’s a fairly iconic little cabin,” Chinnery said. “If you’ve ever paddled a kayak around the island or been out fishing off the southern part of Hornby, you’ve probably seen and maybe looked at it wistfully, thinking: ‘That might be a great spot to spend the shoulder season where there’s nobody around.’ ”

Built on the edge of the water, the cabin had no electricity or running water. The owner does not live on the island and the cabin, built in the 1980s or 1990s, has had a few caretakers over the years, Chinnery said.

Firefighters arrived to see the blaze spreading beyond the cabin into the trees.

“It’s a south-facing aspect, so it is pretty dry there,” he said, noting there has been no significant rain on Hornby for a couple of months. “We started pulling hoses down the goat trail. We staged our trucks at the top of the hill where the road is and then pulled the hose down.”

Hornby contractor Alan Fletcher, who is building a school after the old one was largely destroyed by fire, loaned his aluminum landing craft with a flat bottom and ramp to the firefighting effort. The craft is used to ferry workers back and forth to Vancouver Island.

The vessel delivered additional hoses to firefighters and brought personnel to the scene, while its pump was used to extinguish beach fires, Chinnery said. Fletcher also helped move some of the fire department’s equipment at the end of the day.

The fire was reported at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and was under control in about 30 minutes, he said. Work continued past midnight as firefighters put out hot spots, extinguished beach fires and ensured the forest floor was wetted down before returning to the hall to spend a couple of hours putting equipment away.

About 20 volunteer firefighters responded.

“Our crews did an amazing job in a really, really challenging situation,” Chinnery said. “It was complicated even more because of the fact this place is in a bit of a radio shadow, so it was really hard to communicate with the dispatch agencies.”

The community stepped up by finding the landing craft, loaning cat carriers and giving the caretaker a place to stay, he said. “It’s always a community effort when somebody loses a home.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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