Fires and hurricanes make for long week for Nictaux volunteers

Heather Killen
Published on July 13, 2014

Volunteers help when needed

It’s Saturday night and Fire-ettes Holly Stillwater and Terry Nichols should be at home with feet up, but they are back in the kitchen at the Nictaux fire hall. This time they are preparing food for the firefighters who are battling a major forest fire near the Alpena Rd.

This fire called was called in midafternoon on Saturday, affecting about 20 hectares of land and posing concerns for nearby homes. About 70 firefighters from Nictaux, Kingston, Springfield, Middleton, Lawrencetown, Bridgetown were called, while members of Annapolis Royal were on standby.

Residents along the highway 10, who had just gotten electricity restored from last week’s storm, found themselves in the dark again. The grid was shut down as a precaution while firefighters battled the blaze that jumped from one side of the road, to the other.

By 6:30 p.m. the Saturday night bingo regulars are starting to line up in the fire hall, waiting for their cards, volunteers stepping up to replace the firefighters who are still down the road trying to contain the blaze.

Behind the scenes in the kitchen, Nichols and Stillwater are making sandwiches again. All week they cooked with Suzette Sheaves and Ginny Potts, making meals for the neighbours and strangers who turned up at the comfort center that ran full-tilt at the fire hall since Arthur hit last weekend.

“On Sunday we had 200 people, on Monday there were 150, by Tuesday it was between 85 and 95, we had 75 on our last day,” said Nichols. “It was lunch and dinner. People would start arriving around 7:30 a.m. and we were shutting down around 11 p.m. most every night.”

Most people were looking for hot food and water, some wanted a shower, while others needed to recharge batteries for cell phones. An alarming number needed to power up medical equipment to control and monitor their health conditions. One person needed treatment for heat exhaustion.

“We had one couple who came every day and sat in the corner,” said Stillwater. “The woman just sat there with her face in her hands. The couple had gotten their cheque on Friday and stocked up their freezer with a month’s worth of food. They lost everything.”

Each time the couple came to the comfort center, they were told by NSP their electricity would be restored by the day’s end. But by the next morning, the couple would be back sitting in the corner.

People and businesses pitched in doing what they could; donating food and bottled water to the comfort center. Similar comfort centers were opened in community fire halls across the Valley, as people searched for help.

In Nictaux, Suzette Sheaves was the baker, while Nichols, Potts, and Stillwater pitched in to help supply delicious hot meals each day that ranged from goulash and rice, to chicken, pork, and potato salad, and of course, hotdogs.

The first 911 calls started coming in July 5 around noon when firefighters hit Highway 10, trying to clear trees off the road. This work continued throughout the day Sunday and into the week.

This most recent call came in around 3 p.m. July 12, when the major forest fire was called in near Alpena Rd. Exhausted firefighters from seven communities rushed to this mutual aid emergency.

Nichols says she wasn’t planning to come to the fire hall to help out, but her husband was on the scene and volunteers were needed to work for the firefighters who usually run the bingo game.

“They support us year round, so we have to look out for them when they need us,” she added.