The iconic and beloved Quamichan Inn was destroyed by a fire that started late on Friday and raged into Saturday morning, and owner Richard Phillips isn’t sure what his next step will be.
“First and foremost, nobody died,” he said on Saturday, while watching investigators inspect the remains of the century-old mansion that housed the restaurant and bed and breakfast on Maple Bay Road. “It’s shocking and overwhelming. There’s a whole process to go through. Life takes another turn, as they say. We’re all on a journey, and we don’t know where it ends up or when it ends.”
The stately house had stood since 1911. Phillips and his wife had owned the Quamichan Inn since July 2015, and he felt a responsibility beyond that of a typical business owner.
“When a place has been here 105 years, you think of yourself as a guardian of the place, and that it’s going to stay around,” he said.
Phillips doesn’t know at this point if he will rebuild. Even if he did start the restaurant again, the character and history of the structure would still be lost, he lamented.
There were four guests in the B&B on Friday night, including a 92-year-old man that Phillips himself had helped climb the stairs to his room, and a table of six in the restaurant. Phillips credited employee Kristi Jones with sounding the alarm and saving the lives of everyone inside.
“On a different night, the staff would have all been gone,” Phillips said. “One table was still here, and that’s why we had staff here.”
The blaze was reported shortly after 11 p.m. Firefighters said that the fire spread so quickly that there was no chance of saving the structure.
“Upon our arrival, there was a fire on the roof, and within minutes the entire roof was involved,” Maple Bay Fire Department Deputy Chief Kelly Paddle said. “Due to how fast it was spreading and structural collapse, it became an exterior attack. There was no possibility of saving it, unfortunately.”
Firefighter safety was a concern, Paddle said, as was water supply, which was why the South End hall was called out for mutual aid. All in all, four Maple Bay trucks, four South End trucks and about 40 firefighters were on scene.
The blaze was out by 6 a.m., but firefighters were back on scene Saturday to deal with hot spots.
The fire was so thorough that it may be difficult to ascertain the cause
“We had to demolish so much of the structure to put the fire out that the investigation will be a challenge,” Paddle said.
Paddle will be among those who will miss the Quamichan Inn.
“I’ve eaten here a few times,” he said. “It was very luxurious; they had great meals. I’m going to miss this place.”
Sixty-five members of the Red Hat Society were scheduled to meet at the inn on Saturday morning for the semi-annual Queen’s Luncheon.
It was to have been the fourth time the meeting was held at the Quamichan Inn, but instead, Peggy Milligan, Queen of the Red Hat Glitter Girls from Chemainus, had the sad task of standing in the driveway and turning away her fellow members, who had driven from all over Vancouver Island for the event.
“It was such a charming place,” Milligan said. “It was very cozy, and the food was so good. There are no places like this in the Valley. This is a terrible disappointment to us and may in the Valley.”