Ashcroft firefighters contemplate the blaze at the old Dept. of Transport site beside Ashcroft Manor.

Ashcroft firefighters contemplate the blaze at the old Dept. of Transport site beside Ashcroft Manor.

Fire destroys historic buildings near Ashcroft

Police are investigating the cause of the fire near Ashcroft Manor on July 18.

  • Jul. 22, 2014 1:00 p.m.

The RCMP are investigating the cause of a fire which destroyed several historic buildings on Hwy. 1 beside Ashcroft Manor.

At 11:43 pm on Fri., July 18 the Ashcroft Fire Department was diverted from an ambulance lift assist call by Kamloops Fire Dispatch, which stated that a motorist travelling on Hwy. 1 had called in to report a structure fire near the Manor. Multiple calls from people living on the Manor property were also received, reporting that there was a fire on the old Dept. of Transport site beside the Manor, which contained several empty houses and sheds.

“We arrived at a firestorm,” said Ashcroft Fire Dept. Chief Brian Henderson. “Two buildings were already fully engulfed, and the fire was running along a ditch beside the highway into a large pile of hay. It was also running behind the buildings, toward the Manor.”

The other buildings on the property were soon on fire, and the radiant heat made it too dangerous for firefighters to enter the site. Winds of up to 70 km per hour were carrying embers far from the fire, and the firefighters directed their efforts toward controlling and preventing the blaze from spreading further. “If it hadn’t been for the wind,” Henderson said, “we could have dealt with it much more easily.” The property was also littered with abandoned cars, appliances, and motors, as well as a propane tank and oil drum, all of which posed hazards to crews fighting the blaze.

The fire had by this time caught hold in a gully to the north of the Manor and was threatening the historic roadhouse, and crews sprayed the area around the building to keep the fire back. A shed behind the Teahouse was destroyed, and burning embers ignited a small fire on the roof of the Manor, but firefighters from Ashcroft and Cache Creek managed to douse the flames and keep the other Manor property buildings safe.

A power pole carrying a 25,000 volt line from the burning property was engulfed in flame, and the line came down across Hwy. 1. BC Hydro had been called, and was able to cut the power, but police were forced to close the Trans-Canada for several hours.

Crews were hampered by a lack of access to water, having to refill their trucks from a hydrant near the Ashcroft Indian Band office and then, when the power had been cut, having to refill in town. By early morning on Saturday the combined efforts of the Ashcroft and Cache Creek firefighters and the Wildfire Management Branch appeared to have the situation under control; but at noon the AFD was once again called to the site by a report of spot fires breaking out on the side of the highway opposite the Manor.

Crews stopped the flames inches before they reached a haystack, only to find that the fire in the gully behind the Manor had spread across a field and into a line of trees at the back of the Ashcroft Reserve. Chief Henderson requested aerial assistance, and retardant was dropped on the fire, although not before a small portion of land on the reserve was burnt. A helicopter was then able to bring water from the Thompson to douse the area, and Ashcroft firefighters moved in to put out the remaining spot fires.

Residents of the Ashcroft Reserve were on an informal evacuation alert on Friday night/early Saturday morning, with the RCMP going door-to-door with the notice. The seven people who live on the Manor property were also advised to leave. There were no injuries, although two firefighters were taken to hospital for minor health issues.

The Ashcroft Fire Dept. was called out once more to deal with spot fires, shortly before midnight on Sat., July 19. Two firefighters remained on patrol at the site until 4:30 the following morning.

Chief Henderson had nothing but praise for the firefighters from Ashcroft and Cache Creek, and extends his thanks to them and to the personnel from Wildfire Management, the Ashcroft and Clinton RCMP, and the citizens who assisted in efforts to contain and control the fire and keep people and property safe.

It is unclear how the blaze started, and Ascroft RCMP are now investigating the fire’s origins. No physical evidence has yet been found, although the investigaton is still in its preliminary stages. If anyone has information that could help he or she is encouraged to contact the Ashcroft RCMP detachment.

The buildings on the property have been vacant for many years. The site was originally developed in 1944 as a Dept. of Transport Radio Range Facility to track aircraft, and the four distinctive gambrel-roofed houses that were adjacent to the highway date from this time, and were used to house facility staff. It became a weather station in the 1960s and served briefly as a forestry site before being sold in the 1970s. The current owner lives in the Lower Mainland.

Barbara Roden