By Matthew Shields
Fire was a major threat to the wood-framed communities of Port Hammond and Port Haney in the early 1900s.
Port Hammond lost several buildings along Maple Crescent in 1916; Port Haney, on River Road in 1932.
House fires were common throughout the urban and rural portions of the district, where almost all homes used wood-burning stoves for heat.
Fires were also frequent in the foothills north and east of town, where logging companies ran heavy machinery (sparks and flames) in the summer’s dry woods.
An enormous 1931 blaze, started at the Brown and Kirkland logging operation based on Pitt Lake, burnt over the northern slope of the Golden Ears and down the valley of Gold Creek, decimating the forest in that area and barring the return of industrial logging to the area around Alouette Lake.
Before 1945, the district had no organized fire protection. Firefighting was a community effort, undertaken by citizens with the equipment at hand.
Port Haney and Hammond voted to construct public water systems only in the late 1920s.
In the 1916 fire in Hammond, labourers at the lumber mill helped witnesses stage a bucket brigade from the nearest water source – the Fraser River.
Telephone calls were placed to Port Coquitlam and New Westminster, which had pump trucks capable of maintaining a water line, but neither was able to respond.
The municipality of Point Grey, separate from Vancouver until 1929, did respond – taking three hours to arrive. Damages from the fire were estimated at $65,000 – equivalent to $1.25 million in improvements today.
Pressure to organize the local response to fires came to a head in 1945, after the house of the Bailey family on 15th Avenue (236th Street) caught fire while Mrs. Bailey returned a lantern to a neighbour. Despite the efforts of neighbours, the house burned down, killing two children.
This tragic incident spurred the community to action.
Spencer Pallot chaired a public meeting, resulting in the foundation of the Haney Volunteer Fire Department.
Council voted to allocate $400 towards urgently needed firefighting equipment, and the existing air raid siren was used as a fire warning. The volunteers would be covered under municipal insurance.
Under first fire chief Jack Stanyer, who was unpaid, volunteers visited other valley centres to study their units and procedures.
Stanyer remained chief at the time of the disastrous and well-remembered fire at the Maple Ridge High School in 1953. By this time renamed the Maple Ridge Volunteer Fire Department, the municipal force was assisted by firefighters in the service of B.C. Forest Products at the Hammond Mill.
Although Stanyer lamented publicly that low water pressure in the municipal pipes had made the efforts difficult, the response time was reported as only a few minutes.
Population growth has since demanded the construction of fire halls in Hammond, Haney, and Whonnock, with a fourth planned for Albion. The department now includes about 55 full-time paid employees, as well as 60 paid-on-call members.