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January 2001 

     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 else.

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
Fire burns slowly in a tight bale; it is like trying to burn a phone book.

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 of miraculous.

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 for me:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 personal reminder.

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 Fire Departments.

Editor's note:

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.







Dewdrop 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:

Global EcoVillage Network (Canada)
Eco Communities on Environment Canada's Green Lane
Canadian Telework Association
Nova Scotia's Smart Community Project


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All contents © 1995 - 2017 Highway7.com unless otherwise attributed
Highway7 E-zine, a publication of Hatch Media, is an electronic journal with a focus on commercial, historical, cultural and ecological issues concerning the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in Canada. Topics include a growing resource of currently more than 300 articles. More articles and image galleries are added frequently as new material is brought to our attention. With Highway7.com, our primary aim is to serve, inform and reflect the rural communities on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, as well as to acquaint new residents, visitors, tourists, and investors with the special beauty and enormous potential of our region.
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