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Blaze destroys houseboat
Neighbour says resident is OK

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Monday, July 20, 2015

Scott Mitchell was jolted awake at 5:30 a.m. Friday morning by a scream followed by what he said sounded like "a jet engine going off outside my window."

NNSL photo/graphic

A man looks at a houseboat on fire on Yellowknife Bay around 5:45 a.m. on Friday. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

Mitchell, who lives aboard a boat moored adjacent to Government Dock, witnessed the fire that destroyed a houseboat next to Jolliffe Island on Yellowknife Bay. Neighbours said the home belonged to Kimberly Fuller who escaped the blaze unharmed.

RCMP suspect the fire was caused by a faulty propane heater, which was also the loud sound that jarred Mitchell.

"It turned out to be a propane tank on her front deck (that) started to vent and spew flames out of it. That's what was making the jet-engine sound."

Mitchell witnessed the whole ordeal, including another neighbour rushing to the rescue.

"The propane tank just kept venting off and then the corner of the house started on fire and it just spread rapidly from there because of the Styrofoam building material that was used."

Mitchell said he watched as houseboater Gary Vaillancourt did his best to try to put out the fire. By the time firefighters arrived the houseboat was already heavily engulfed in flames.

"(Vaillancourt) came over ... in his boat, his little Boston Whaler, and he had a water pump and a hose hooked up in it. He went to go put water on the fire ... the RCMP told him to get away, so he stood off for a while.

"The fire department came out and they had some difficulties with their pump - and went back to the dock and then Gary moved in and started pouring water on the place."

From Mitchell's vantage point, there was no chance of saving the home.

"I don't know if they are heroes but they are certainly Good Samaritans," Mitchell said of the two men who fought the fire.

Matthew Grogono lives on a houseboat two doors down from the one that caught fire.

Grogono's two adult daughters, Sophie and Hannah Grogono were in his second houseboat, right next door to the fire.

"My only fear was for my children. They were at home asleep and the explosion woke them up," Grogono said. "They immediately went to the opposite end of the house and jumped into the lake and swam to the island and consoled Kim, the owner of the burning house."

"There was a motorboat that had a burning propane tank in it that became adrift and went along the side of my houseboat and scorched the side of my houseboat."

Mitchell said all things considered, Fuller was in pretty good spirits. He spent most of Friday helping her.

"The houseboat community got together and we dragged the remaining part of her house over to the Government Dock and we're taking loads to the dump. It's 90 per cent done," he said Friday afternoon. "She's lost everything including a bunch of antiques from her grandparents."

Fuller couldn't be reached by press time.

Some people hold the view that the fire department shouldn't risk its resources on houseboats, Mitchell said, because houseboaters don't pay municipal taxes.

"I heard that comment in the Gold Range Bistro this morning. I tried to build my place as fire proof as possible ... I wouldn't count on outside resources to help me."

The opinions on whether houseboaters should pay taxes is varied, says Mitchell.

"Some people say houseboaters should pay taxes and other say, 'well, they don't own any land so what are you charging them taxes for?'"

Craig MacLean, the fire department's deputy chief of operations said he isn't about to get drawn into the debate of houseboaters and taxes.

"When it comes to fires, when people's lives are at stake and individuals are put in harm's way, we will always try to do the best we can to make sure people remain safe."

MacLean admitted the department had some difficulty with its pump initially when the department responded, but he agreed with Mitchell there was little crews could do upon arrival because the houseboat was already badly damaged.

"We do have a rescue boat that's designed for surface water rescue but not for firefighting. We do have portable pumps that we can use to draw the water, pressurize it and spray it out," MacLean said.

"We initially attempted to do that from our (inflatable Zodiak) boat but it's an unstable platform. When you spray water out of a hose it wants to push the boat around. What we ended up doing is moving to the shore (of Jolliffe Island) because the houseboat was close enough to the shore for our pumps to sit on, draw water and spray it from there. Plus our people are much more safe."

An investigation into the official cause of the fire is ongoing.

RCMP said it does not appear to be suspicious.

- with files from Shane Magee

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