A gas station in Whiskey Creek was ablaze after a camper van burst into flames on Thursday afternoon (June 17).
Heavy black smoke could be seen for kilometres and people nearby heard an explosion. Flames quickly spread to the overhang above the fuel pumps and then to the attached convenience store at the Whiskey Creek Mid-Island Co-Op.
The Coombs-Hilliers, Qualicum Beach, Parksville and Dashwood Fire Departments all scrambled to attend the blaze, which erupted shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday. Police and ambulance joined them in short order.
Traffic along Highway 4, the Alberni Highway, was backed up for several kilometres, reaching as far back as the Coombs Junction intersection, as emergency vehicles approached the scene.
As of 8 p.m., DriveBC reported the highway was open to single-lane, alternating traffic.
Witnesses Dennis and Denise Dalla-Vicenza told Black Press they were pumping gas into their car at the Whiskey Creek Co-op when Dennis noticed the van behind them had a puddle of gas underneath it. He mentioned it to a man who was busy with his own gas pump.
Before the man could figure out where the gas was leaking from, flames erupted.
“I ran into the store and asked for a fire extinguisher,” Dalla-Vicenza said. Staff told him there was one at the pumps, but he said it was locked and the hammer to release it was missing. He began banging it with his fist to try and release it.
Denise Dalla-Vicenza stopped her fuel pump, not realizing there was fire four feet away until “people started screaming get away, get away,” she said.
They moved their vehicle away from the pumps, and tried to comfort the young couple whose van was now fully engulfed in flames. Denise said the woman had been inside the van when it caught fire, but managed to escape.
“She was saying ‘everything we own was in there.’”
A police cruiser heading east on Highway 4 stopped on the highway to block traffic and clear the area, Dennis Dalla-Vicenza said.
The couple, originally from Port Alberni, had been at West Coast General Hospital for an appointment and were visiting friends before heading back to where their RV is parked near Parksville. They managed to leave the gas station before fire crews arrived.
“Just as we were (leaving) everything started to blow and the (canopy) of the gas pumps was blowing up. We could see flames and black smoke,” Denise Dalla-Vicenza said
BC Ambulance reportedly took at least one person to hospital. No further information on their condition, or if there are other injured parties, is available as of yet.
— with a file from Susie Quinn