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Brush fire causes scare at Reef Point

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A broken-down fire rescue truck brought the Watten community together during a blaze on Reef Point Road back on Good Friday.

The Watten Volunteer Fire Department's rescue vehicle, a 31-year-old truck donated by Hydro One and converted to suit its needs, failed to pass safety inspection this year and was pulled off the road.

With their extra truck absent, the fire small fire crew struggled to extinguish the flames, which spread when someone burning brush was unable to keep it contained.

They came to realize how much they depend on it to carry their extra gear and pump, noted fire chief Chad Buist.

After battling the fire for a short time, they quickly realized its size had exceeded their capacity.

As the blaze grew, they turned to others for help.

“It was pretty scary," Buist admitted. "A lot of residents came running from their homes.”

He called on the Couchiching Fire Department, which brought another pump truck full of water, as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, which set up a hose to pump water from the lake to attack one side of the fire.

Winds were out of the southeast at 25 km/h, which picked the fire up and lifted it onto the tree tops, noted Buist.

This made it difficult to fight.

Another problem was that the lake—one of their main water sources—was thousands of feet away from the fire.

“If the MNR and Couchiching weren't there to help, there is no doubt in my mind that we would've been evacuating Reef Point Road,” stressed Buist.

“I can't thank them enough for what they did.”

Not only did the Couchiching Fire Department and the MNR come to the rescue, but residents of the Watten area, as well.

“Obviously, they all had a mutual interest in keeping their homes safe,” noted Buist.

"But they were key in flagging down vehicles and helping us carry equipment.

“I arrived on scene, first with three people, then I looked around later and the whole community was there,” he recounted.

“Everyone just came together at once," Buist added. "It was neat to see.”

The fire call came in shortly after 11 a.m., with crews battling the blaze for about four hours.

Buist described the Watten rescue truck as “one of the oldest units in Ontario.”

It carries all of their extra fuel, chain saws, firefighting gear, first aid equipment, and their “jaws of life.”

The fire department is self-funded and driven purely by the hearts of volunteers, noted Buist.

Its annual budget is $12,000, which is raised through a flea market and fish fry.

Not quite enough to buy a new truck and replace some worn-out gear, Buist said.

This is why he started a “GoFundMe” page accepting donations. The goal is to raise $30,000 to cover the cost of a new used truck.

The department plans to combine parts of the old truck with the new one.

“We spend a lot of time giving to the community," said Buist. ”People are saving 25-30 percent on their insurance just because we have a fire protection team.

"This is an opportunity where the community can give back.

“If everyone could make just a small donation to this important purchase, then we will be able to continue running the way we are and help people in emergencies,” he reasoned.

As of April 20, the department had raised $1,800.

Anyone interested in donating to the Watten fire rescue truck can visit the “GoFundMe” page at www.gofundme.com/watten-fire-rescue-truck.

Buist, meanwhile, has a few tips for anyone looking to burn at this time of year.

He noted a few poor decisions were made that day which led to the fire getting out of control.

For instance, anyone looking to burn should not do so on windy days.

Residents also are reminded that during fire season (April 1-Oct. 31), burning can begin no sooner than two hours before sunset and must be extinguished no later than two hours after sunrise.

As well, make sure your fire number is clearly marked so volunteers don't struggle to find your home in an emergency.

The fire on Good Friday occurred on unmarked property, which caused confusion for the volunteers that day.

“You can't have people wasting time in an emergency trying to figure out where you live,” Buist stressed.

He also noted that when you're burning brush, you should feed the fire gradually—not light everything you have to burn at once.

This is an easy way to lose control.

Buist's final advice was to remember to keep buckets or hoses near by in case you need to extinguish the flames in a hurry.

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