WEYMOUTH, N.S. – When a neighbour frantically raced up the stairs to let Justin MacLean and his girlfriend know the building they were in was on fire, MacLean remembers the room in their apartment immediately filling with an orange glow when they pulled back the curtains to look outside.
It was the early morning hours of Aug. 29 and the Weymouth building their apartment unit was in wasn’t just on fire, it was being engulfed in a ferocious blaze.
“I had heard, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang – I heard someone running up my stairs. There’s nobody else who has a key to get into where my stairs are so I thought something is going on here,” MacLean recalls about that night. “I opened my door and it was my neighbour from two buildings over. He says, ‘You’ve got to get out, the building is on fire.’ My girlfriend opened up the curtains and it lit the whole apartment up orange.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the RCMP and the Nova Scotia Office of the Fire Marshal.
“This fire is being investigated as a suspicious one,” says RCMP Corporal Jennifer Clark. “We hope that through the evidence collected from the scene, and perhaps tips and information from the public, we will be able to lay charges and hold the responsible party or parties to account.”
Cpl. Clarke says as with any fire investigation, the RCMP works with and relies on the expertise of fire investigators to alert them to anything suspicious regarding fires they attend. That has occurred in this case.
“Once a fire has been identified as suspicious, we work with the Office of the Fire Marshal and our forensic identification technicians to identify and collect evidence that might assist us in building a case towards laying arson charges,” she says.
The fire destroyed two buildings in Weymouth’s downtown core. The former Weymouth Trading Post building – one of the buildings destroyed – (also formerly known as Campbell’s store) was built in the late 1850s/early 1860s. The other building was a former library and contained a couple of apartment units. One of the buildings was also housing artifacts for a future Electric City interpretive centre.
After being alerted to the fire Justin MacLean says he and his girlfriend Lauren Noah quickly made their way out of the building.
“Our dogs followed us but when they got down to the bottom of the stairs they saw the fire and ran back up,” MacLean says.
Instinctively – or perhaps more reactively – he turned and chased after the dogs.
“I didn’t realize how big the fire was. I went back to get the dogs and I could hear my girlfriend yelling,” he says.
He dragged the dogs out by their collars, saying the fire was at the door where they needed to escape through.
“I realized how bad it was when I had to jump flaming power lines to get out,” he says, mimicking the crackling sound of the lines as he speaks about it. “It was pretty wild.”
The fire was so intense it damaged buildings across the street, melting siding and damaging windows.
MacLean had moved into the apartment on Aug. 8. He and his girlfriend lost everything they had inside the building and his car that was parked outside didn’t fare any better. MacLean was able to quickly find a new place to live in Comeauville, Digby County.
ELECTRIC CITY LOSS
Another huge loss associated with the Aug. 29 fire were artifacts, documents and photographs and other things being stored in one of the buildings that documented the history of Electric City and were destroyed in the blaze.
A committee had spent years gathering artifacts and information pertaining to Electric City in New France and the Stehelin family who established an innovative lumber mill here in the 1800s, complete with a train, running water and electricity. Because there was running water and electricity here long before anywhere else in Weymouth it was dubbed Electric City.
The artifacts, documents, photographs and items were all to be part of an Electric City interpretive centre. Those involved with the project are still forging ahead. But they have had to regroup and have been appealing to the community for help in locating other artifacts.
“The loss is major, for sure,” Hal Theriault, who has been involved in this project for years, said in a recent interview. “There are things that obviously can never be replaced.”
A public meeting to share stories, discuss ideas and offer input on how to still move forward with an Electric City interpretive centre is taking place Thursday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Weymouth Consolidated School gym.