A fire at the Tyndall Stone Lodge, which is likely to keep businesses on the ground floor closed for up to a year, was caused by a hot spot created from renovation work involving a torch-on decking membrane.
The investigation into the cause of the fire concluded on Monday, Nov. 25, incoming Fire Chief Sheila Kirkwood said.
"Roofers had been applying roofing membrane to the third floor exterior balcony and this was the point of origin for this fire," she said.
In the past year the Whistler Fire Service has responded to four balcony fires. Kirkwood said in all four cases if a sprinkler system existed on the balconies the fires would have been quickly doused. The fire department responded to the initial report at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 22 with 46 firefighters working to control the Tyndall Stone blaze when it first erupted.
"The fire was spreading up the exterior of the building into the roof and into the soffits and into that common attic space there," said Kirkwood. "The crews made a quick knock down from the exterior to contain it and then went into the interior to chase the fire down."
The next day, Nov. 23, an undetected hotspot in the attic reignited, and in dealing with the fire to make sure it was out, significant water damage hit the businesses below.
Affected were Purebread, The Oracle, the Bell Store, Taxback.com, Comor, Los Sombreros and David's Tea.
Paula Lamming of Purebread was told it could be a year before the bakery, owned along with husband Mark, reopens in the Tyndall Stone Lodge location. She said business will continue at Purebread's Function Junction location and another temporary village location is being sought.
Los Sombreros, Comor, David's Tea and the Bell Store suffered very little damage from the first fire, according to Lamming.
Kelly Oswald from The Oracle said in an email that her store would close indefinitely.
"It is totally out of our hands at this point, so we are just waiting to hear from the various inspections and insurance companies as to what happens next," said Oswald. "We will re-open as soon as possible."
Eight people were evacuated from the suites on the second and third floors of the building. They spent Friday night at the Delta Whistler Village Suites.
Members of the Whistler Fire Service had provided a fire watch through the night Nov. 22. Thermal imaging was also done. But the next morning the attic flared back up.
"It is a very complex attic system," Kirkwood said. "It's a big common raceway that runs through the whole top of that building with a lot of void spaces, a lot of blown-in insulation."
The sprinkler system in the attic was shut down Friday due to worries that it would freeze in the cold overnight temperatures.
"It simply took that smoldering hot spot to break through, get a little bit of oxygen, and all those fire gasses accumulated in that attic space ignited," said Kirkwood.
The fire watch on scene recharged the sprinkler system and turned the third floor sprinklers back on. Every single fire vehicle in Whistler was sent back to the scene and 41 firefighters worked to douse the second blaze. Fire crews wrestled with the second fire into the early afternoon.
Joe Mooney, the RMOW building department manager, said an engineering company would inspect the roof. The first priority, he said, is to get the building safe and secure.
Some witnesses posted criticisms in online forums of the Whistler Fire Service for responding too slowly. Kirkwood defended the work of her colleagues and praised them for their efforts at the Tyndall Stone Lodge.
"It is difficult for our firefighters right now when they see those comments," said Kirkwood.
She said the response time was less than six minutes, well within the industry average. Also, she noted how congestion on Main Street complicated things. Construction vehicles were parked at the building and members of the public were getting in the way.
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