A fire at a Saanich Peninsula farm Wednesday night ripped through a storage area and created a cloud of smoke that could be seen as far as Victoria. But according to farm owner Ian Vantreight, the blaze could have been far more devastating to their day-to-day operation.
“There was some equipment destroyed and we lost some valuable stuff but we were lucky the fire didn’t move into any of the other buildings,” Vantreight said of the blaze that happened at their facility on Central Saanich Road.
“As far as basic production, we’re day to day, and thankfully it wasn’t the warehouse, greenhouses or shop which would have certainly made an impact. But were working and picking product like we normally would so that’s the good news.”
The fire erupted around 7 p.m. on Sept. 19 and smoke and flames could be seen coming from the property.
“We got a call right around seven that came in a grass fire at Vantreight but it was quickly upgraded to a structure fire,” explained Ron French, Central Saanich fire chief. “When we arrived we saw it wasn’t in fact in a structure but rather in a storage area around the two buildings on the property.”
Vantreight got a call around the same time from one of his workers who lives down the hill from the farm’s warehouse telling him there was a fire in the warehouse.
“My initial worry was that it was in the warehouse, but when I got there and opened up the gates we could see it was outside of the warehouse and shop areas,” he said.
“The first thing we did was to make sure no one was in danger and then we just started hauling equipment out like mad to save as much of it as we could, because by then it was clear (the fire) was well on its way.”
Mutual aid calls went out to the North Saanich and Sidney fire departments who also responded to the blaze to assist Central Saanich.
“We really wanted to make sure we had adequate fire suppression in place so the call went out to the other two departments,” French said. “It’s a long way from the hydrant system to the property so it was good to have the backup because we had to do some relay pumping and that sort of thing to get the water there.”
The fire, which was mostly fuelled by plastic crates used for hauling and picking bulbs and produce, burned hot, said Vantreight, and sent a huge cloud of thick black smoke into the air over the Saanich Peninsula.
“There was over 100,000 of the crates stacked on wooden palettes,” said Vantreight. “The way they were stacked they were all nicely ventilated so they just went up right away. You couldn’t have put gasoline on them to get (the fire) going any better than it was.”
The three fire departments got the blaze under control and began clearing out around 9:30 p.m. but the cause of the fire still hasn’t been determined, said French. When asked, Vantreight added the farm’s new flame weeder had nothing to do with the blaze.
Vantreight estimated the losses to be significant, but said he doesn’t feel that it will impact any operations.
“We haven’t talked to the insurance company or anything but I estimate the damage is going to be in the hundreds of thousands (of dollars,)” he said, but added that the disaster could have been worse.
“The damage won’t have an immediate impact right now because we’ve just gotten past the season where we needed those crates. We’re just lucky it didn’t get any farther into the buildings where there’s petroleum products, propane and stuff like that.”