Wizard Grill catches fire; flames quickly doused 

It was just like any other dark Whistler morning when bus driver Ross Kirkwood drove down from the Benchlands on the Village Shuttle route Thursday, Jan. 9.

It was 7 a.m. and dark. It was quiet with only two passengers on the bus. In fact, it was unremarkable in every way. Then he spotted the Wizard Grill.

"I just happened to pull up just as the first flames were coming out of the roof," said Kirkwood, who at first glance thought it was a chimney fire and then noticed flames coming out beside the chimney.

Right away he radioed his dispatcher to call the fire department, ran into the restaurant at the base of Blackcomb Mountain and pulled the fire alarm, much to the surprise of two startled workers in the kitchen. They had no idea that the roof above them was on fire because there was no smoke or flames in the building itself.

Minutes later the Whistler Fire Department arrived and doused the flames within an hour.

By 11 a.m. that day the coffee machines were back up and running, although the holes in the roof testified to the early morning escapade.

The roof was quickly patched and the Wizard Grill was offering its full menu selection by Saturday.

"We’ve been able to get ourselves into full operation due to huge effort by all of the people who were involved in getting us back in shape," said Lynda Edwards, food and beverage director at Whistler-Blackcomb.

"We have pizzas but we’re not using the pizza oven. You can heat pizzas up another way believe it or not," joked Edwards.

Assistant Fire Chief Geoff Playfair said that the fire can be traced back to the wood fired pizza oven.

There was a build up in the chimney above, which ignited that day after the kitchen workers fired up the oven around 6 a.m.

There is a bylaw, which requires chimney’s to be cleaned at least every 12 months but for places burning wood constantly, they may need to be cleaned much more often, said Playfair. He suggested a chimney cleaning of once every three months. The chimney at the Wizard Grill was cleaned last fall.

Whistler-Blackcomb has since thanked Kirkwood for his quick-thinking actions with a 2002-03 season’s pass.

He calls it "fortuitous timing." Added to that, it’s in his blood. His sister is Sheila Kirkwood, assistant fire chief at the Whistler Fire Department.

Also, about six years ago he was getting off the Creekside bus when he saw smoke coming from the South Side Deli. He grabbed a fire extinguisher from the Husky station and along with a couple of other guys, kicked in the door and put the fire out there.

He joked: "I’m rushing around saving Whistler landmarks left and right."

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