Two men and a woman have lost everything after an explosive fire burned down their home early Sunday morning, July 9, in Lake Cowichan, but it could have been much worse if not for an off duty Mountie who risked his own life to save them.
Mike Bell and his son Travis, and an unnamed woman were sleeping when they were woken abruptly by a member of the Lake Cowichan RCMP detachment, telling them their home was on fire and to get out immediately.
It was 4:30 a.m. and the roof of their house on Cowichan Avenue was already ablaze.
“The police officer happened to be driving by at about the same time, on his way to work, and was able to gain access to the home,” said BC RCMP Communications Services. “He located two men inside, woke them up and assisted them outside. One of the men advised there was a third occupant, a woman, who was still inside the home and so the officer returned inside for her. Fortunately, the officer was able to get everyone out to safety, as the home became fully engulfed in flames shortly after the third occupant was removed.”
RCMP didn’t name the officer at the officer’s request.
“The officer’s actions and bravery is commendable, said Sgt. Lita Watson, detachment commander of Lake Cowichan RCMP. “He put his own life in danger, without even a second thought, to help those people who would have been severely injured.
“I want to also recognize and acknowledge the efforts made by the neighbour who tried their best to rouse the occupants of that home and called for emergency assistance. These neighbourly acts really speak to the close-knit and supportive community we live in here in Lake Cowichan,” Watson added.
Neighbour Rob Webber said he and his wife heard a large bang so loud it nearly knocked them out of bed. He had his wife call 911 while he went out on his porch to have a look, only to find the home down the road was blowing up.
“I went to see and swear it looked like half the damn block was lit up,” he recalled. “It was one of those situations where ‘some kind of noise’ we later figured out, was bullets heating up and going off,” Webber said. “Apparently the gunpowder went off literally seconds after that off duty cop got the two fellas out…. Then… boom! And that place was just gone.”
Neighbour Tara Fraser also heard the big boom.
“I heard a loud bang over the running air conditioner and left my room around 4:30 a.m. to see what was going on,” Fraser noted. “I was met with a curious orange glow from my upstairs bathroom window. I walked towards it almost daydream-like and pulled the curtains to see huge flames shooting up above the tree line between Mike’s property and the house next to me.”
Webber said he didn’t know at the time that the father and son were able to escape, adding the explosions made him “a tad nervous” to run up to see if he could help.
“I honestly thought as it was only about 4:30 a.m. they would have been sleeping and for sure were in there,” he admitted. “There’s no way anyone could have gone in at all,” after the explosions, he said. “There was no bloody way anyone lived through that and it was near killing me I couldn’t do anything but take a bloody video and hope they made it.”
He said it was “a long couple of hours” before he learned the men were safe.
RCMP confirmed all three adults who had been inside the burning home were checked over by paramedics, and no serious injuries were sustained.
“I’m just glad no one got hurt. It could have been a hell of a lot worse,” Webber said.
Police said the fire is not considered suspicious.
The home’s previous occupant, Mike Bell’s late father, had stored gunpowder in the basement and Bell had yet to clean it all out.
Webber is considering a comedy show fundraiser to help out his neighbours, who had no insurance.
Another neighbour, Jenny Bradford has been instrumental in the relief effort and has been busy collecting clothing for the men.
Meanwhile, Fraser has set up a fundraiser and donations can be made at: https://gofund.me/f598dd11
“They have lost everything as the entire structure was swallowed up in flames,” Fraser said. “Anything will help this family. Thank you for any and all kindness at time when the world can be hard on all of us.”
She said a fund for cash donations and a donation bin for non perishable goods have also been set up at Country Grocer, as has an account at the local credit union. She’s also asking Lakers to drop their empties off at 28 Lake Cowichan Ave. E for a bottle drive between now and when she drops them off on July 18.
Local pizza delivery driver Constance Gagnon also collected tips and donations for the family during a recent shift.