Alpine Club of Canada

Gazette Summer 2018

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 17 of 31

18 The Alpine Club of Canada Gazette Summer 2018 FIRE!! Is your backcountry accommodation prepared? by Julie timmins I t was a ursday night, the second‑ last night before the end of our week‑long backcountry ski trip. Feeling tired but lured by the last two chapters of a good suspense, I went upstairs to read. is didn't last long before drowsiness overcame me, and I fell asleep. Sometime thereafter I awoke slug‑ gishly to a beeping sound. It took a few seconds before I realized it was the smoke detector. I leapt out of bed and tore to the staircase on the heels of another. We descended the stairs into thick smoke. Adrenaline started pumping as the two of us saw the fire ‑ nowhere near any source of heat such as a wood stove or heater. But there it was! ere appeared to be several smaller flames and one main fire burning about knee‑high. An unexpected fire, even knee‑high, is a scary thing because of the potential for it to spread faster than it could be dealt with. "Becky" went for the fire extinguisher and I went for couch cushions to smother the smaller flames. Becky fought with the fire extinguisher, an old beast of a thing covered in dust and as it turned out, uncooperative. As I successfully quashed the smaller flames with couch cushions, I was aware of other group members gathering at the bottom of the stairs. Becky had given up on the extinguisher and came to help me as I folded the carpet (a long runner) in half to suffocate the flames that were feeding on it. is was scary because as I folded the carpet that tiny rush of air fanned the flames in an unfavourable way. At the same time, I yelled "DOOR!" Becky spun to the door perhaps two metres away and we threw the burning carpet out of the hut. While working on suppression, I kept thinking "when do the flames get too big and the smoke too thick?", but we were making progress. en the fire was out. We stood there trembling, but it was over. With smoke and smell dissipating we tried to figure out what happened. So here are some facts: A vertical post had been outfitted with electrical outlets for charging. One of the items plugged in was a charger for an airbag. ere were two identical airbags in the group each with its own charger. Rather than using a second char‑ ger, the batteries for the second airbag were inserted into the charger of the first. is charger was set up for a particular type of battery and the batteries for the second airbag were not the same kind as the first. So, incompatible batteries in the charger resulted in the unit overheating, and thereby caused the meltdown of the charger that resulted in the fire. In our situation, the two ceiling smoke detectors on the main floor weren't work‑ ing. Smoke rose to the ceiling and slowly filled the room top to bottom as smoke does until the carbon monoxide (CO) detector at the bottom of the stairs went off. Good thing it was working. Many fire detectors in backcountry cabins get disabled because it is so annoy‑ ing when a team is cooking (and perhaps badly at high heat) resulting in smoke that sets off the alarm. e batteries never go back in. I have spent more than 25 years staying in backcountry huts one to three weeks each year. Very few of the lodges I have visited have given a fire briefing. Other than a few sauna incidents at various lodges I think the previous Sentry Lodge is the only backcountry lodge to succumb to fire, and Hilda Creek cabin decades ago. e Alpine Club of Canada's historic Fay Hut was incinerated in a forest fire in 2003, and its modern suc‑ cessor, built in 2005, also succumbed to fire. An investigation determined it most likely resulted from the ignition of the roof beams caused by leaking hot gases from the fireplace. e likely cause of the wood becoming heated is that snow creep might have pushed open the joints of the chimney pipe. e hut was unoccupied at the time of both fires, and thankfully no‑one was hurt. ose are pretty good stats considering how many lodges are out there. Is a briefing necessary? A fire is so unlikely it is off our radar. My intent with this article is to highlight the broader issue of fire safety in backcountry huts and lodges, and fire response, and not dwell on where it hap‑ pened. My hope is to have every single operator of backcountry huts and lodges ask themselves: Fire safety in ACC huts ● All ACC huts have smoke/CO detectors. Guests are reminded on their hut confirmations to bring extra batteries with them to replace the existing batteries so that they are in good working order for the duration of their stay. ● As most huts are small, the location of exits – doors or windows ‑ are obvious. at said, all guests at ACC huts are encouraged to be aware of all available exits in case of emergency, and to make note of the locations of fire extinguishers. ● e ACC employs the professionals at BlackBear Chimney Services to inspect the Club's facilities and report back to the Facilities team on a regular basis. ● e ACC's Facilities staff members check the fire extinguishers at all huts on an annual basis, as part of the regular servicing of huts. e Club maintains a fresh stock of extinguishers to replace older ones when due. Banff Fire and Safety professionals inspect and replen‑ ish the ACC's stock during their annual inspection of the Canmore Clubhouse property. ● Guests at ACC huts are reminded not to burn garbage or food particles in the wood burning stoves as this can lead to increased soot build up in the chimneys – this rates high among the greatest fire safety con‑ cerns at the Club's huts.

Articles in this issue

view archives of Alpine Club of Canada - Gazette Summer 2018