There was genuine fear Thursday afternoon as flames broke out at the Whiskey Creek Co-op gas station on Highway 4 near Coombs.
Staff and customers ran to safety as those travelling on the highway pulled up to the roaring fire.
“It was a huge fire, above the trees and explosions like boom, boom,” said Antonin Biffi who was on his way to Tofino.
“I came around the corner and all you could see was big black smoke and the next thing you know you get a little closer and all you can see is the van that was in the gas station and it’s all completely engulfed in flames,” said James Colby Walker who was driving to Port Alberni.
The Coombs-Hilliers Fire Department is less than two kilometres away and Lieutenant Theresa Benoit was first on the scene.
“When I arrived we had a motor vehicle fully involved at a fuel pump and the fire had started spreading into the canopy and into the convenience storefront,” said Lieutenant Benoit. “It was a rapidly spreading fire with pretty significant fire behaviour.”
Flames quickly engulfed the entire station.
Fortunately, staff had hit the emergency shutoff button possibly averting a bigger disaster.
The motor vehicle that was on fire was a van and CHEK News has been told it might have been driven into the station already on fire as the occupants were searching for a fire extinguisher.
Fire officials, however, say it’s too soon to confirm that.
Over 50 firefighters from 9 stations as far as East Wellington battled the fire.
There are no hydrants in the area, so 11 tanker trucks raced back and forth delivering water first from the Coombs-Hilliers fire hall, then from the Qualicum Beach fire hall.
“The fire was challenging to access and fire crews worked until 10:20 PM on fire suppression and to put out any remaining hot spots,” added Benoit.
Highway 4 was closed in both directions for over four hours resulting in major backups.
On Friday the station was completely gutted with the metal shells of three vehicles among the ruins.
Lori Peebles watched the fire from her home nearby. She worked at the store for 11 years before retiring three years ago.
“The store was a big spot for a lot of people to come, you know hang out and talk, get ice cream, groceries,” she said. “We were open until 10, 11 0’clock at night. The community is going to miss it.”
There were no injuries in the fire.