COLUMN: Residents always quick to rally for neighbours

Sunday's fire in White Rock was the latest in a number of blazes in the city, dating back years, but residents have always pulled through.

Sunday’s fire in White Rock was the worst fire that the city has seen in many decades.

In terms of the impact on people, it may go down as the worst ever, although there have been a lot of big fires in White Rock over the years.

More than 60 homes in an apartment complex at Pacific and Johnston have been destroyed or damaged. More than 100 people are displaced.

It appears likely that the buildings have been so badly damaged that they will be torn down and rebuilt, and those who were displaced will be out of their homes for more than a year.

Thankfully, there was only one reported injury – a resident broke his leg while leaving the building.

The community rallied around the evacuees quickly. The residents who were at home when the fire broke out about 4:30 a.m. were forced to escape with very little. Most were taken to Centennial Arena, which was set up as an evacuation centre. Donations of food and clothing came in quickly, and temporary accommodation was arranged.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin and members of council were on hand to encourage evacuees and offer any assistance they could. The outpouring of assistance and genuine concern is heartwarming and once again proves that people will rally around a worthy cause, and help their neighbours when the need is greatest.

The fire had a major impact on the White Rock water system and may again put into question the wisdom of buying the White Rock water utility. The reservoir was drawn down so drastically because of the huge amount of water needed to fight the fire.

Some residents had no water in their homes later in the day Sunday, while others had just a trickle. A boil-water advisory was also issued.

Had White Rock been part of the Metro Vancouver water system, this likely would not have happened, as the supply of water would not have been so compromised. While the city did use its backup supply from Surrey, which gets its water from Metro Vancouver, clearly the emergency caused much more of a water drawdown than expected.

A huge thank you goes to the White Rock firefighters and those from Surrey who backed them up. Their hard work  in fighting a fire of this magnitude is greatly appreciated.

As noted above, there have been a number of major fires in White Rock over the years. The worst ones were in the earliest years, when much of the community was forested and there was no fire department.

Fires started as a result of logging and bush clearing did major damage in 1910, 1915 and 1918. The latter one threatened the White Rock school on Johnston and Roper, not far from Sunday’s fire.

In 1927 and 1930, major fires along what is now Marine Drive destroyed a number of businesses, and on Sept. 11, 1931, one of the businesses that had been spared in the earlier fires, the Blue Moon Dance Pavilion, was destroyed by fire.

These fires were a major factor in the establishment of the first fire brigade in 1933.

In 1935, the Legion building on the pier burned, and the pier was damaged.

Perhaps one of the most ironic fires occurred shortly after Harry Douglass was elected mayor of White Rock in 1959. Running on an economy platform, he disbanded the paid fire department. Shortly afterwards, his commercial building on Pacific Avenue, across the street from where Sunday’s fire took place, was completely destroyed by fire. Response time was a major factor in allowing the fire to take hold.

In 1979, a major fire destroyed the Chit Chat Café and adjacent businesses on Marine Drive, and just last year, fire destroyed the former Surf dance hall.

Fire is a major calamity and this latest one has affected many people. However, the good news is that no lives were lost, and White Rock has a fire department whose members acted quickly and bravely.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.