The death of a woman in a house fire in Whiskey Creek on Feb. 22 has left her neighbours reeling.
Oceanside RCMP and Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fully engulfed residential structure fire in the 3800 block of Marples Road in Whiskey Creek just after 1 a.m. The fire was contained after more than an hour but unfortunately, one person was located deceased at the scene.
Meanwhile, close neighbours of the victim, identified as Charlene Priest, are still mentally processing the tragic incident.
Phillip and Sheena Tiicham Muir were the first at the scene of the fire. Philip was alerted by some strange noises of things falling and some crackling at around 12:40 a.m., which he thought might be heavy rain. He got up and looked out the window. He was alarmed to see the sight of huge orange flames behind the trees that separate the end of their driveway from their neighbour’s house. He immediately called 911 and alerted his wife, who got their teenage daughter living in a trailer that is close to the fire scene.
“My wife, Sheena, ran down the driveway after notifying our daughter,” said Philip. “Because I was on the phone I wasn’t fully aware of what she was doing or I would have stopped her. Still barefoot she ran up to our neighbour’s house, concerned that our elderly female neighbour (the property owner) was still inside.”
Sheena ran into another neighbour, John, who lives down the street. He also thought the house owner must still be inside.
“Sheena used a blanket that was on the ground to turn the knob, but the door was jammed by something,” said Philip. “John handed Sheena some pieces of firewood, which she threw at the door to get it open. She called out for Charlene, and thought she could hear her voice and her moving around. Sheena tried to go inside but the heat was too much.”
The Muirs got their water hoses out to try and douse the flames but it was futile, said Philip, as there was not enough water pressure to control the fire. They decided to focus on saving their property, hosing down any flames on the ground.
The Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department arrived at 1:14 a.m. and with the help of other fire departments from Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Dashwood were able to fully contain the fire just after 2 a.m.
“The whole night was unbelievably terrifying and surreal,” said Philip. “We are still processing what we experienced. We are deeply saddened for the loss of our neighbour, but also feel incredibly grateful that the fire was contained. I am shocked by the bravery of Sheena’s attempt to rescue Charlene, even though it was too late to help her.”
The Oceanside RCMP in conjunction with the BC Coroners Service and the Office of the Fire Commissioner conducted an investigation and revealed that criminality is not suspected. Police determined Priest died as a result of the fire, the Oceanside RCMP stated in a press release.
The scene has been turned over to Coombs-Hilliers Fire Department to continue the investigation into the origin and cause of the fire.