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Covey Island Boatworks razed by fire

by Keith Corcoran

Covey Island Boatworks is destroyed by fire in the early-morning hours of August 12.
 PETITE RIVIERE - Fire reduced a landmark boat shop to rubble last week and took with it a multi-million-dollar yacht that had been in for a cosmetic refit.

 The Maggie B, a 63-foot schooner, was inside Covey Island Boatworks following a two-year, 38,400-nautical mile circumnavigation, when an early-morning blaze ripped through the building.

 "To have her die where she was built - it's completely weirding me out," Maggie B skipper Frank Blair told a provincial newspaper. "This was my home for two years so it's like my house burned."

 Firefighters from Petite Riviere, Pleasantville, LaHave, Italy Cross, United Communities, Hebbville and Bridgewater were roused from their sleep August 12 at 2:30 a.m. to respond. At least 50 firefighters fought the blaze.

 The fire was under control within an hour, Petite Riviere Fire Chief Scott Drummond said, adding that a big focus was protecting nearby buildings at the corner of Highway 331 and River Road, including a convenience store and their own fire station. Water was sprayed on the buildings to keep them cool but intense heat blistered the siding on both structures.

 There was no way to get inside Covey Island Boatworks to save the structure, Chief Drummond said. The large wooden building with two boat-building bays, estimated to be 8,000 square feet, contained plenty of things that would have aided the spread of any fire.

 "It was lost before the pager went off," the fire chief said.

 Founded in 1979, Covey Island Boatworks builds and repairs custom yachts.

 Wentzell Road resident Anne Silver, her husband and her daughter were among 16 people evacuated from their homes near the fire scene.

 "A lot of it was because of the fumes, the toxic fumes, because it was really quite smelly," Ms Silver said later during the morning of August 12.

 She was roused in the night by a sound similar to fireworks going off. "I got up and I looked out the patio door and the whole sky was just ablaze."

 Some evacuees stayed at a nearby church, which opened as a comfort centre.

 Gordon Whynacht, who is Ms Silver's father, said he and his wife, Margaret, were also advised to leave their Wentzell Road home in the night.

 He awoke to the sound of sirens, then looked outside to the scene across the river.

 "There was no trouble seeing what was going on."

 He also expressed sadness at the destruction of Covey Island Boatworks.

 "What a loss that is. A lot of employment gone."

 The business employed at least 15 people.

 "It's a real tragedy, a real loss," company general manager Al Hutchinson said that morning during a brief chat.

 A statement released later in the day on the company's web site said the building was insured and that "discussions are well underway for a move to the Smith and Rhuland property on the Lunenburg waterfront."

 There had been talk for some time of a future move out of Petite Riviere.

 The web site said most employees who have been with the yard at least a year have shares in the company.

 Chief Drummond indicated there were no environmental issues detected during the course of the fire and subsequent mop-up. A Nova Scotia Environment Department inspector did pay a visit to the scene and filled out a report.

 Five 250-litre propane tanks were removed from the area and a crew pumped the oil out of a 200-gallon tank.

 Derwin Swinemar of Nova Scotia's fire marshal's office suggested detecting a cause will be a lot of work.

 "It's going to be a lot of digging, a lot of scraping, a lot of picking," he said.

 No injuries from the incident were reported.

Click here to see the video.

posted on 08/19/08
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