Fire destroys La Vallee landmark

There wasn’t much firefighters could do to save a home on Highway 11/71 just east of Devlin that caught fire Friday afternoon, La Vallee volunteer fire chief Leo Pruys said yesterday.
Pruys said the fire was called in around 1:30 p.m. by someone on a mobile phone. But he noted the building already was “extremely heated up” by the time firefighters from La Vallee and Alberton arrived on the scene.
“It had been burning a long time before it was called in,” he noted, adding the house and its contents likely were unsalvageable from the get go.
“We put in a good effort, though,” he continued. “We dumped a lot of water on it.”
The house, which belonged to the Calvin Durbin family, used to be the old La Vallee School, which Pruys said posed several problems for firefighters.
First of all, the fire was contained inside the building by the outside brick wall, giving firefighters only windows and doorways to fight the flames through.
The second problem involved the renovations that had been done to the building over time. Pruys noted after firefighters had knocked the fire out in the main part of the house, it got up into an attic area between a couple of false ceilings–and out of reach.
“We couldn’t access it from inside the building because the floor was unsafe, and we couldn’t get it through the roof, so we had to call off the effort,” he said, noting there wasn’t anything left worth saving at that point.
“After hearing about those firefighters who got killed in the States last week, you pay attention and don’t take any unnecessary risks,” he stressed.
Water to battle the blaze was relatively close by, Pruys said, thanks to a water hydrant the municipality had installed just over two km away from the blaze. Two trucks were used to haul water to the site, which then was dumped in two reservoirs for the hoses.
But it didn’t take long for things to flare up again between dumpings if the reserves ran dry.
“If flares up very fast because there was so much heat in the building,” Pruys said, adding one group of firefighters even tapped into the well on the property for a while.
“It didn’t last long,” he said. “But we thought it was worth a try.”
The exact cause of the fire is unknown although it is not being called “suspicious.” As such, it is not being investigated by the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office.
Pruys also noted the mutual aid agreement between the La Vallee and Alberton fire departments came in handy in this case.
“We knew we were going to be short of tanker trucks and manpower so we called on Alberton Fire Department for assistance,” he said. “[The agreement] gets used very often.”