by Kim Thompson
On Tuesday, February 16th 1998, there was a fire in the floor of
the Straw Bale House in Ship Harbour. The fire was the result of
"human error", a polite way of referring to something
How Did It Happen? The Straw House sits above ground, set on posts.
A pipe which brings water into the house has heat tape attached
for the winter months to keep it from freezing.
The heat tape failed and caused this pipe to freeze, leaving us
without water. When the "hair dryer-thaw-trick" didn't
work, I put a small electric heater into the cavity outside, near
the pipe (something we have done before). In the space of 15 unattended
minutes the heater melted, causing a fire to start.
I sprayed the flames with a fire extinguisher and
burns slowly in a tight bale; it is like trying to burn a phone
smothered the cavity with a blanket, however some loose straw and
the plastic vapour barrier on the underside on the joists continued
to burn. I called 911 and in less than seven minutes Deputy Chief
Baxter arrived. A truck and Fire Chief Kerr arrived about 10 minutes
later!! Their speed in getting to the fire I find nothing short
The volunteer fire brigade of men, and a woman, worked incredibly
hard and with great care that evening from five til midnight. The
hill to the house was iced in like a glacier so they had to lug
heavy gear up and down slippery slopes to the trucks parked 400
feet below. That hill, coupled with the small crawl space under
the house where the fire had started, provided very difficult conditions
to work in. I never heard one complaint. Chief Kerr laughed after
it was over that, "it had been quite a training night!"
The floor of the Straw House is insulated with half bales of straw,
laid on edge and jammed tightly between the floor joists. Under
the bales there is strapping and chicken wire to hold everything
in place, a plastic vapour barrier is stretched under it all to
control rising damp. Fire burns slowly in a tight bale; it is like
trying to burn a phone book. Fortunately because of this, the fire
progressed very slowly towards the main floor, it was the plastic
and the wood, as well as loose straws, that caused the fire to spread
when the hoses were put to it.
Damage??? ... because of the great care and sensitivity of the fire
brigade, NO personal possessions were lost or even damaged. A section
of floor 22' x 4' was ripped out and many of the floor joists were
burned. There is some smoke damage, which will be remedied in time.
We are settled back in, THANKS to labour, and materials donated
from several neighbours. The Youth Action Team has volunteered to
come out for a day in the spring and help complete repairs.
This whole experience underscores three very important observations
Events like this demonstrate
again how strong and supportive the community on the Eastern
Shore is. It is caring and respectful, and I am very happy to
be raising a daughter on its shores. Our local fire departments
are proof of all its finest qualities.
Education of fundamental
living skills is essential. My six year old daughter, was not
frightened when she saw smoke. She merely told me all the safety
rules she had learned and later quietly pointed out fire fighters
that she recognized from school presentations.
The foolish things
we do in life, usually catch up with us. Whether it is a heater
or a blow torch to thaw pipes, a seat belt not fastened etc.
I guess there are reminders of human errors every day, the "Ship
Harbour Fire That Was, But Didn't", will be just that ... a
Special Thanks..... to John Eichorn, Rod Malay, Peter DeBaie,
Ralph Bayers, John Stairs, the many friends who dropped by with
"things" or called, the Ladies Auxiliary, the Red Cross,
and most especially to the Oyster Pond and Musquodoboit Harbour
We've visited Kim's home and were very impressed with the good
feeling that came from the thick, stuccoed walls. Sounds seemed
to be muted, all felt very cozy and comfortable and solid. The deep
recessed windows invited us to pull up a chair and enjoy the view.
Kim allowed us to take a few pictures. I'd like to share them with
the viewers of Highway7.
Gardens (listing in "Food for Thought")
Sheet Harbour Halifax Co. Nova Scotia B0J 3B0 Telephone (902)
885-2707 Fax (902) 885-2707 Sales Contacts: Jim Keizer/Tim Keizer,
partner Products Produced: Cranberries, Greenhouse tomatoes,
English cucumbers, Christmas trees
Distribution: Direct sales/Most major wholesalers. Email
For in-depth information on this topic, visit the following websites:
on Environment Canada's Green Lane
Canadian Telework Association
Scotia's Smart Community Project