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Cabin burns, fire department stays put

By Sadie-Rae Werner/Special to the Telegram

Published on August 7, 2017

Residents and cottagers on the Witless Bay Line fight a cabin fire Saturday.

©Submitted photos by Casey Husk Evans

At around noon on Saturday, families on the Witless Bay Line noticed smoke coming from a home whose owners had left only 45 minutes earlier. By 12:15 p.m., the cabin had gone up in flames.

Witless Bay Line is a small community of cabins and full-time homes — approximately 20 residencies over four blocks — located less than 10 minutes from the town of Witless Bay.

Residents and cottagers began fighting the fire with hoses, pumps and buckets. They called the Witless Bay Fire Department, a volunteer brigade, no more than six kilometres from the fire, which services the town of Witless Bay, and were told a fire truck had been dispatched.

The residents continued to fight the fire on their own, expecting firefighters to arrive at any moment. When none came, they called again, but were disappointed and frustrated at what they were told.

“They can’t respond because we’re not on town services because we don’t pay taxes,” Casey Husk Evans, a full-time resident on the Witless Bay Line, says about the reason they were given for not receiving fire-extinguishing services during the crisis.

That they are exempt for a variety of town services was not unknown to Evans, who explained that snowclearing and mail delivery are not provided to homes and cabins in the community. However, they were unaware that emergency services were included in these exemptions.

When one of the women fighting the fire collapsed from smoke-inhalation and had to be rushed to hospital, the RCMP was called to the scene.

The RCMP called the Holyrood Fire Department, composed of volunteers like the one in Witless Bay, who arrived at 3 p.m. and put out what little was left of the fire.

The cabin had burned to the ground, but no other homes or people were affected.

The fire served as a shocking revelation to those on the Witless Bay Line who were unaware of the extent to which they were not entitled to town services.

“The only thing we worry about is that it could have been a major forest fire,” says Evans, also explaining the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agrifoods had been unwilling to respond to the fire because it started in a home, despite the risk it posed to the proximate wooded area.

“It’s definitely an eye-opener and something should be done,” says Evans. “Would they have responded if someone had been inside?”

When asked to comment on the situation, the Witless Bay town clerk declined to discuss what services those living on the Witless Bay Line are and aren’t entitled to, saying only, “They are outside of the Witless Bay boundary.”

Cabins and homes on the Witless Bay Line are not the only ones to be exempt from town services, including emergency services. Residents in other communities that do not pay taxes to a specific town are subject to these exemptions but the Holyrood fire chief says his brigade works to service these communities regardless.

* The last line of this article has been clarified.