Fire destroys Oak Lake Beach landmark

Flames hid inside walls, reigniting stubborn fire Cause not considered suspicious

A landmark structure that greeted visitors to Oak Lake Beach burned down this week, in a smoldering fire that frustrated firefighters by hiding in the walls and taking two days to knock down.

Oak Lake-Sifton Fire Department first responded to the fire in the two-storey red duplex overlooking the marina on Monday morning, supported by Wallace District Fire Department. At that time, smoke was escaping through two small windows at both ends of the roof, leading firefighters to treat it as an attic fire.

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Using breathing apparatus, crews repeatedly entered the smoke-filled home searching for the elusive source.

Oak Lake-Sifton Fire Chief David Houston said, “We opened up a bunch of the walls and overhauled it, we thought we had it all out… We used our thermal camera in there yesterday (to check for hot spots).”

Not finding any, Houston and the Fire Commissioner did an inspection of the home, determined the fire was out, and sent everyone home Monday evening.

Even the homeowner got to go inside. “She saw it last night at 8 o’clock, we walked through the house together. There was a lot of smoke damage, a lot of heat damage.”

But at that point, they believed the structure had been saved.

About 12 hours later, the 911 call came in that smoke was once again coming from the roof of the home. At 8:30 Tuesday morning, Oak Lake-Sifton firefighters arrived and again searched for the source of the fire. And got a surprise.

“If the fire had been just in the roof, the house would still be standing, but it got into the walls,” said Houston. He now believes the fire began in the service room on the main floor where the furnace and hot water tank are located. From there, it travelled up the walls and into the roof.

Having to give up on saving the building was a big disappointment, Houston said on Tuesday. “Even this morning when we got the roof put out, we couldn’t get into the upstairs because the floor was starting to fail, so we couldn’t get in there to open walls up. We didn’t have much choice but to take it down.”

With a strong north wind and a rejuvenated fire, they made the decision to call in a backhoe to tear the house down to ensure sparks and further flare-ups didn’t endanger any other structures.

That decision may have saved downwind homes in the resort community where cottages and all-season homes have little space between them.

“We lost this building but don’t want to lose the one next to it. That’s our strategy with buildings out here because they are so close together. It’s one thing we’re very conscious of.”

On Wednesday morning, Westman RCMP said the Fire Commissioner’s preliminary report blames a faulty extension cord. 

© Virden Empire-Advance

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