Fire damage to the historic Westbank Lions Community Hall may be less than originally thought, after flames ripped through the walls of the heritage building in a blaze that broke out early Sunday morning.
Strategic fire-fighting efforts by the 23 West Kelwona firefighters that responded to the blaze may have been enough to save the heritage building, originally constructed in 1928 with an addition built in 1980.
“Initial reports are the damage is not as bad as it looks from the outside,” said West Kelowna fire chief Wayne Schnitzler. “When you look at the outcome it was a very good job by the fire-fighters in containing the fire damage to the front of the building. It gives the possibility that they may be able to repair what they have there and get it back in order. That being said, you don’t know what the costs will be to do that.”
Schnitzler said most of the damage was limited to the front wall of the building as well as the attic space while there was also smoke and water damage.
However he said the floors and stage of the building were intact as were much of the computer equipment used by tenants of the building such as the Red Cross and the Boys and Girls Club.
As of Monday morning, the cause of the blaze was still under investigation with West Kelowna fire working together with RCMP to determine how the fire started and whether or not it was suspicious.
When fire-fighters first arrived on the scene, shortly after the first reports around 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, they were confronted with flames visibly shooting out of the aging structure.
“It was one of those fires that you can’t take that aggressive of a stance,” said Schnitzler. “We had to make a decision to attack the fire in a certain way. You don’t want to push the fire further into the building.”
Crews quickly determined that the fire was located inside the walls and was being fed by sawdust in the walls, material that was used for insulation in construction in the 1920’s.
“We were dealing with old construction and when you have that you have difficulties,” said Schnitzler. “You have sawdust insulation and areas that are hard to access. We had to open the walls up with chain saws, pull the sheeting down, pull the insulation off and get the sawdust out. The crews did a really good job.”
While the building may eventually be saved the immediate impact of the loss of the hall will be dramatic on the community of West Kelowna.
“The impact is huge; that’s where our community meets more than anywhere else,” said West Kelowna mayor Doug Findlater. “There are meeting rooms for smaller groups that meet on a regular basis and the regular tenants of the building. There already was a shorted of space but this accentuates it. We will see what the Lions want to do but finding community meeting space is a priority.”