WB buildings destroyed in blaze  

No effect expected on opening day preparationsBy Andrew Mitchell

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID BUZZARD, DAVID BUZZARD PHOTOGRAPHY - DEFENSIVE POSTURE A firefighter wearing respiratory gear works to contain a serious fire that levelled four Whistler Blackcomb buildings at Base II.
  • Photo By David Buzzard, David Buzzard Photography
  • DEFENSIVE POSTURE A firefighter wearing respiratory gear works to contain a serious fire that levelled four Whistler Blackcomb buildings at Base II.

Four Whistler Blackcomb buildings at Base II on Blackcomb Mountain were completely destroyed in a fire that started before midnight on Sept. 16.

According to Whistler Fire Chief Rob Whitton the fire was so advanced by the time they arrived on scene that crews went into a defensive mode, where the priority was to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to other buildings.

"At the point of arrival it looked like three buildings were involved and the fourth was being impinged upon," he said. "I believe we're looking at five damaged vehicles, and crews that arrived on scene moved another eight to 10 vehicles away from the buildings so they weren't damaged by fire."

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it is not considered suspicious.

Whitton said the fire likely spread quickly, and the multi-colour flames and explosions indicated that there were chemical substances stored on site.

"There were definitely hazardous materials on site, paints and other things — we're not sure what's on the list, but we were getting some pretty odd-coloured flames, deep purple to a brilliant blue, which are indicators that there were chemicals there.

"The materials used in the buildings themselves, the paint shop and chemical storage area, and the wood shop as well, all those things lend themselves to a fairly rapid-building fire when there is plenty of oxygen available."

The fire was considered in control by around 4:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, when a Whistler Blackcomb excavator was used to knock open the walls and allow crews to spray water inside.

Firefighters from all three halls, some 32 firefighters in total, worked through the night to contain the blaze and keep it from spreading. Crews also remained onsite through the morning to deal with hotspots, and other excavators were sent in to level the buildings.

According to Whistler Blackcomb, security personnel called the fire in after attending an alarm in the area. Whitton noted that the buildings did not have fire detection on site, something that might have allowed crews to respond sooner.

The buildings contained Whistler Blackcomb's mountain operations offices, the sign shop, the building maintenance workshop, the reservations call centre and pass-administration working areas.

No one was in the buildings at the time and there are no injuries reported. The total cost of the damage is unknown.

While it was the most serious fire reported in the resort in several years, Whitton said it could have been worse without the recent rain.

"If this fire happened a month earlier it would have been a different situation as far as interface (forest) involvement," he said.

The fire will not impact opening day preparations, or the ongoing work on the Harmony 6 or Crystal Ridge chairlift projects.

Arthur DeJong, manager of mountain planning and environmental resources for Whistler Blackcomb, said crews were already back at work on the Harmony and Crystal chairs that morning, but called it a "tough day" for staffers.

"I watched my office, which had over 30 years of reports and materials and artifacts of memory, get destroyed, which was quite an experience," he said. "But I'm very complimentary of Fire Chief Rob Whitton and the whole team. Operationally, we're going to be fine, we're already back on our feet... nobody is hurt."



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