A Christina Lake institution has burned to the ground.
At about 4 a.m. Saturday morning, the Crow & Bear Pub caught fire and in a short time became completely engulfed by flames. After investigating the scene along with Grand Forks Fire/Rescue Chief Dale Heriot on Sunday, Christina Lake Fire Chief Ken Gresley-Jones concluded that the fire was caused by a wiring issue.
“The call came in just before 5:30 a.m. and it was first reported by a truck driver passing by,” said Gresley-Jones. “The flames were already through the roof when the call came in. I was there a few minutes after and I could see this was already a loss. There was no way we were going to be able to put this out; it was fully involved.”
Gresley-Jones said there were two locations where the flames were 20 and 30 feet in the air.
“I parked and then did what we normally do—I did a 360 walk about and by the time I got back to the other side, the flames were coming out the walls and through the entire roof. It was gone,” he said.
Gresley-Jones explained that fire departments generally attack fires either offensively, where they send firefighters into the structure to put the fire out, or defensively where they “surround and drown.”
“That (defensive) was the only option we had here,” he said. “We weren’t even getting close enough to shut the utilities off it was that hot.”
Christina Lake Fire Rescue was on the scene at the Crow & Bear for 10 hours. Gresley-Jones said the building is a complete loss. “The roof collapsed inside the basement. Everything is down. Nothing was salvaged at all.”
He said that had the fire department been called earlier, they could have had a chance at battling the blaze. “It was just the time of day, everyone was asleep and no one noticed it,” he said. “It got to the point where we couldn’t deal with it.”
Fire crews spent seven hours on Sunday on site investigating the cause of the fire. Joining the Christina Lake fire crew on site were the RCMP as well as Heriot and one other member of Grand Forks Fire/Rescue. Gresley-Jones, who is recovering from knee surgery, was very grateful to have Heriot walk the scene and be his “eyes and ears.”
“He did a fabulous job,” said Gresley-Jones. “We basically had to dig through the roof to get to what was underneath it. It was a fair bit of work. We discovered where we think the fire started and it was not arson; it’s not suspicious. The RCMP has walked away from it saying they have no concerns. Their role was to make sure there was no arson.”
Gresley-Jones said they could see where electrical wires running from a sub-panel onto the floor arced and burned off in two locations. “We got an electrician in to look at it,” he said. “It’s a three-phase system in that structure which is significantly different than a house. I’m not an electrician but this fellow said that when they blow, it’s quite a powerful arc and it actually welds the wire together.”
The electrician told Gresley-Jones that the system was stapled to the floor joints. “He said if steel touches steel than it’s going to arc,” said Gresley-Jones.
Gresley-Jones said the electrician explained why the fire occurred now even though the business had been operating since the mid-1970s.
“He said it’s a public building, it’s a dance floor, there’s always movement and vibrations,” he said. “After a period of time, if that staple ubs through and touches steel, it explodes.”
Gresley-Jones said the Crow and Bear pub fire will be reported as a non-suspicious fire. “I can pinpoint the exact area of origin but I will say I suspect it was caused by the wiring because I cannot absolutely prove it,” he said, “but it makes absolute sense.”
There was no one in the building at the time of the fire and no injuries. Gresley-Jones said no nearby buildings were in any direct danger. “There’s a new business going up beside it and we were keeping a watchful eye on that during the fire because there were a lot of hot brands flying that way as well as towards the bush behind. With the temperature the way it was, and it was a steel roof on that structure beside it, any embers were going out almost immediately. So there was no concerns but we were certainly mindful of it.”
Gresley-Jones said he had no idea what the amount of damage that occured. He said the insurance investigators would take over. He said the loss of the Crow & Bear would be a tough one for the community.
“It’s been there since 1974,” he said. “It went by the name Time and Place for years. The current owners bought it in 2012 and changed the name. It’s a landmark. There have been a lot of activity there from fundraising events, to it being a bar and restaurant. There’s been funerals there. It’s definitely a key building in this community. Not only have we lost that as a town but the people running it have lost their livelihood. They’re understandably quite upset about this.”
Although their are other licensed establishments, the Crow & Bear was the only pub at Christina Lake. Grace McGregor, Christina Lake representative and board chair for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, was there for the pub’s original grand opening as the Time and Place.
“Those of us who have been here a long time remember when it was built,” she said. “I remember being at the opening. It was a big thing for this area. It became quite an icon. There were nights that you couldn’t even get in during the summer. There were line-ups outside the door and around the corner to get in that place.”
McGregor said she has seen a lot of people reminiscing about the pub, especially on social media. “A lot of people remember that,” she said. “There were great stories made there. People remember meeting friends there. That kind of thing. It’s an icon that is now gone. It was a landmark at Christina Lake.”
McGregor said the loss the Crow & Bear will leave a blank space in the community. She said the whole community of Christina Lake is in shock at losing such an iconic landmark.
“That feeling as you drive by, ‘I remember when…,’ and what a hole that leaves in the community when something like this happens,” she said. “It just leaves a big hole in the community every time you lose a landmark and the Crow and Bear was one of those.”