Fire destroys Lake Cowichan ‘Christmas House’

A Lake Cowichan home wellknown in the area as the "Christmas House" was destroyed in one of two weather-related structure fires in the town last Thursday, and residents are already rallying to help the family recover.

For many years, the house on South Shore Road, across the street from the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena, had been decorated inside and out by owner Eileen Pilkington and her family and opened to the public as a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy. Now, neighbours are raising funds to help the family cope with the loss of their home.

The efforts began even before the fire was out with a hot dog sale at Country Grocer, which raised $475, according to employee Laurie Johnson.

"They had insurance, but they needed to have something to buy underwear and toothbrushes; things like that," she said.

The store had been just about to close because of the power outage when members of the family arrived, hoping to find some of what they needed.

"We were just closing, but [store manager Jen Pollner] told them to come in and get whatever they needed," Johnson said.

According to Lake Cowichan fire chief Doug Knott, the cause of the fire is believed to be related to a generator the family had set up under their sun deck to get through the power outage. The cause may never be confirmed because the area where the fire started was destroyed by the flames.

"It pretty well points to them running a power generator during the outage," Knott said.

The house was "pretty much engulfed" in flames by the time firefighters reached the scene, so efforts were concentrated on preventing the blaze from expanding to other homes. Thanks to efforts from arena staff and a passerby who happened to be a career firefighter from North Vancouver, everyone in the home managed to get out without any injuries.

With assistance from the Mesachie Lake department, it took about two hours to knock down the fire, although members were on scene until 1 a.m., and back again the next day, to make sure all the hot spots were out.

While that fire was still being battled, another smaller blaze, also caused by a generator, started up in a separate part of town. A truck that Knott had released from the South Shore Road fire was able to respond, along with firefighters called in from Youbou.

Knott urged all residents to exercise extreme caution when using generators and candles during power outages.

"It all can be done safely," he said. "It’s just how you do it."

Initiatives to help the Pilkington family include a bin for clothing donations at Country Grocer, and furniture donations being accepted at Neiser Mini Warehouse and Storage. An account has been set up at Island Savings (account #110999) as well as a website at www.gofundme.com/gx8bg4

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