Flames as high as power poles lit up the night sky in Bowser Tuesday after a gas station that has served as a community hub for decades was destroyed in a late-night fire.
Reports emerged on social media just before 10:30 p.m. that fire engines from several departments could be seen heading toward the waterfront community on the east coast of Vancouver Island, about 17 kilometres northeast of Qualicum Beach.
Images soon followed showing a towering wall of flame coming from the structure, sending plumes of smoke into the air and bathing the surrounding area in an orange glow.
Massive flames could be seen after the gas station along Highway 19A in Bowser caught fire Tues., Dec. 6, 2022. (Courtesy Michelle Bruhn)
Bowser Automotive, which includes an Esso gas pump as well as an auto repair shop, was gutted by the flames.
Bow Horn Bay Fire Department confirmed Wednesday there were no injuries to residents or crews.
“Gas tanks as you can see were fully involved, propane tanks that were tucked behind the building, fully involved,” said Bucoviz.
It took the combined effort of five fire departments over five hours to bring the blaze under control, Bow Horn Bay Fire Chief Clayton Bucoviz told CHEK News, adding crews used some 60,000 gallons of water to douse the fire.
Firefighters also managed to protect nearby structures, including a home that had two families living in it, as well as the only grocery store in town just across from the gas station.
“Oh it was scary, thank goodness we weren’t here last night when the fire did happen, because we’ve got two children, and two cats and a dog,” said Cecilia Gartner, whose family was just moving out of the house that night.
Bucoviz added that Tuesday night’s fire was the largest he could recall there.
“It is probably the biggest fire that I’ve had in this area,” said Bucoviz.
The first firefighter on scene described flames shooting from a garage repair bay at the business, later learning there was a vehicle inside at the time. Fire officials now believe the fire originated in the vehicle.
Highway 19A was closed for hours both ways between Midland and Crosley roads as firefighters staged their attack. The highway was later reported to be open and cleared around 3:30 a.m.
— DriveBC (@DriveBC) December 7, 2022
The blaze also led to a power outage affecting more than 850 properties in the area, according to BC Hydro. The power was out from just after 10 p.m. and Hydro crews responded shortly after.
Those who witnessed the gas station fire expressed shock and sadness to see the well-known business go up in flames. The owner of the business was too distraught to speak with media Wednesday.
“Our heart goes out to the young owner who has been doing so well,” said Bowser resident Michelle Bruhn, adding later, “It’s the heart of our community.”