Comox Valley RCMP are investigating after a Courtenay firefighter was assaulted while responding to a house fire Friday night.
It happened in the 1400-block of 15th Street and it destroyed the home and a neighbour’s car.
A neighbour heard a pop and a shout, which let her know something was amiss before 7 p.m.
“I ran into the backyard because that’s where I heard the call from just in time to see him get out of the house, before a big fireball burst out of the kitchen back door,” said neighbour Emily Doll.
Doll says with a building, trees and fencing around the backyard, her neighbour was stuck with a lot of heat coming off the home.
“I called for my sister to get the hose to start hosing down the yard because the grass is so dry there we didn’t want it to go up while he was stuck and called 9-1-1.”
Firefighters rushed to the scene and found flames up to 12 metres (40 feet) in the air, with four neighbouring homes or buildings damaged from the heat.
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“We were able to [get] water on the fire quite quickly and saved the other buildings from extensive damage,” said Chief Kurt MacDonald of the Courtenay Fire Department.
The homeowner was taken to hospital for smoke inhalation and later released.
During the firefight there was something unusual. The chief says one of the responding female firefighters was punched in the head. She was taken to the hospital and checked out before being released. The chief says police are investigating.
“I can’t ever think of this happening in my 32-year experience with our department where a member has been physically assaulted like this,” said MacDonald. “It’s very disappointing. It’s inexcusable.”
Doll says there is some nuance to what happened. She said the homeowner was really upset because he still had pets inside.
“He was worried about his cats in the house and he was obviously panicking,” she said. “I mean, he’s watching his whole life burn down, so when firefighters were hauling him out he was just kind of flailing around. I really don’t think he would intentionally hit anybody. I think it was just a matter of panic. He’s a really nice guy. He really is.”
Firefighters say the fire started in the home but haven’t determined the cause. The neighbour says the homeowner told her he was having a fire in his fireplace and he suspects it got away.
It was a busy night. Hours later, shortly before 2 a.m. Saturday morning, Courtenay Fire was called to another fire in the 2400-block of 1st Street.
The duty chief was able to get there first and knock the fire down with a garden hose and pressurized fire extinguisher before it could do significant damage as other firefighters arrived.
Earlier this week, a family of four escaped their Courtenay home before a fire heavily damaged it.