HI Construction in Alma levelled as blaze causes estimated $250,000 in damage
THE GUARDIAN - By Wayne Thibodeau
Wednesday, March 7, 2001
ALBERTON – Firefighters continue to sift through the remains of a spectacular fire which levelled a West Prince construction firm Tuesday, causing $250,000 in damages.Firefighters from five detachments battled the blaze throughout the afternoon but couldn’t save the huge structure which was home to HI Construction in Alma.
The fire left the landmark and everything inside of it, including a plow and thousands of dollars in equipment, in a charred mess of ash and rubble.
Four employees who were working on a disabled plow at the time barely escaped before the fire ignited, sending smoke and flames throughout the building and culminating with a series of explosions from fuel storage and propane tanks on the site.
Allan Adams, a foreman with HI Construction, said it was a close call. He and his co-workers were repairing a plow when a spark from a torch ignited the fire.
“It spread within seconds”, Adams told The Guardian.
“It was just a matter of a couple of minutes and she was engulfed. We just got out of the building that was it”
Firefighters were called to the scene shortly after 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Police and ambulance were also on the scene.
Adams said he will spend most of the day today accessing the damages.
“The fire was a complete shock and it is going to be a great loss to everyone in the community,” said Adams.
Barry Dawson, owner of HI Construction, said it could have been worse had someone been injured or trapped in the fire.
“My first question was, “Is anybody hurt?” said Dawson.
HI Construction has been in the operation since 1958. It provides paving, road building, gravel and snow removal services throughout western P.E.I. and employs upwards of 30 people during peak season.
Dawson said his staff will pick up the pieces and he hopes to have business back to normal within days, operating from a temporary location. He said the fire won’t affect snow removal operations but he said he’s thankful it wasn’t snowing when it happened.
“Tomorrow morning, we’ll be operating as best as can,” Dawson said Tuesday.
Ralph Duggan watched the fire from his front step less than 300 feet from the fire. Duggan was thankful the high northeast wind was blowing away from his home. If it hadn’t, the Alma resident said he may have lost everything.
“It was an awful fire,” said Duggan, “there was just a black cloud, one puff of smoke after another. I never seen a fire like it.”
Preston Murphy, a contractor who lives across the street from the construction firm, said thick, black smoke engulfed the community.
“You could see it for miles,” said Murphy.
Murphy spent Tuesday afternoon preparing one of his buildings so it can be used by HI Construction as a makeshift repair building for their snow removal equipment.
“They lost their whole shop, their main shop,” said Murphy.
Firefighters remained on the scene throughout the night to ensure the high winds didn’t reignite the fire. Officials from the provincial fire marshal’s office continued to investigate the blaze.
David Cahill, Alberton fire chief, said wind gusts to 70 km/h hampered firefighting operations. He said that’s why the fire department called all available resources to help douse the flames and save neighbouring buildings.
Dawson credits firefighters for saving several other buildings on his West Prince Property which he said will all him to remain in business.
Post Script. One of the buildings lost in this fire was the former Alma Train Station which was used as a shop - I will post photos and sketchs I did of the old train station later in this blog.