hostel fire 

Another piece of Whistler's history up in smoke By Stephen Vogler Whistler almost lost two pieces of its past on the weekend as a Boxing Day fire razed the caretaker's cabin at the Whistler Hostel and flames charred the outside of the historic hostel itself. Michelle and Martin Young of South Africa arrived in Whistler on Dec. 23, excited about spending the holidays in the snow-covered mountains. They checked into the Whistler Hostel on Boxing Day, but when flames destroyed the caretaker's cabin on the west side of Alta Lake and threatened the hostel, the Youngs got a different kind of Christmas — one they will never forget. "We were really excited about our first white Christmas," Michelle said. "But it quickly turned into a red one." The Youngs had been travelling for three-and-a-half months and all of their worldly possessions were in their room at the hostel. Shortly after 11 p.m., a guest at the hostel walked in the door and announced in broken English that the neighbouring cabin was on fire. Hostel worker Erin O'Brian-Hornsy quickly woke up all the guests, phoned the fire department and got the manager. There was no one in the cabin at the time the fire started. The small, two-bedroom cabin, built along with the hostel in the early 1950s by Whistler pioneer Dick Fairhurst, quickly went up in a huge blaze. Within minutes, hostel guests and neighbours were outside shovelling snow onto the south wall of the hostel to keep the flames from spreading. Manager Greg Warham turned off the propane and electricity to the cabin, and a garden hose was set up to wet down the hostel. People holding the garden hose next to the larger building had to spell each other off in short shifts as the heat became unbearable next to the blaze. The Whistler Fire Department arrived at about the same time the flames jumped to the hostel roof. Whistler Fire Chief Tony Evans said the crew of 30 firefighters had to work quickly to split a single two-and-a-half inch line into two smaller lines so one could be used to control the fire already raging and the other could be used to save the hostel. Evans said the crew had to employ a "gated Y" technique in order to split the single hose into two one-and-a-half inch hoses. "The water had to be turned off at the pump while the gated Y was inserted, then turned back on a minute later," Evans said. "There's a lot of pressure on that hose, but it's a procedure we train for." The extra hose enabled the crew of firefighters to control the cabin fire until it burned itself out and, at the same time, put out the flames on the hostel roof. "The crew in the attic tried not to break through the ceilings in most of the rooms, but had to in some cases to get to clean wood," Evans said, as flames travelled through the attic bedrooms and down some of the rafters. While there was charring and water damage the hostel appeared to be structurally sound and damage was not extensive. Hostel manager Warham said the wind had been from the south all day, but had luckily just shifted to the north, keeping the flames from spreading easily to the hostel. "Thank God it wasn't the hostel," Warham said. An employee of the Delta Whistler Resort, who arrived at the scene with a firefighter, phoned Karen Dicott, restaurant manger at the hotel. Dicott arranged five free rooms at the Delta for the displaced hostel guests. A 14-passenger bus arrived to ship the cold guests to the hotel in two trips. Guests that didn't get rooms in the Delta were put up by neighbours and the hostel manager. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

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