First-ever Bay Estates blaze demolishes waterfront home

by Alicia McCutcheon

BAY ESATES—Some summer residents of Manitoulin will not have a place to return to for the time being as an early Thursday morning fire completely decimated a Bay Estates home.

Expositor photographer John Savage lives five houses down from the home of Laura and James Colussi and said he was awakened at around 5 am by a phone call from a breathless neighbour, telling him of the fire.

Immediately worrying about the wellbeing of his neighbours, Mr. Savage said he raced to the scene and found the roof of the house completely caved in.

“There was no saving the house, and I overheard the firefighters talking about how they had to make sure it didn’t spread,” he said. “It’s remarkable that the trees around the house didn’t burn—all except one that I don’t think is going to make it.”

The Colussi family had returned to their home in Elliot Lake the evening before for a ball game

A completely windless night was a blessing, both neighbours and Northeast Town fire chief Darren Bailey said, as the trees linking the majority of the Bay Estates properties could have quickly spread the fire.

“That is what we all fear down here,” Mr. Savage said.

He noted that the lack of wind meant that he could not even smell smoke in the air until about 8 am. “The smoke just went straight up,” he added.

Mr. Savage said the house was built in 1976 and that the family whonow owns the property hadn’t been there very long. “They had made use of the place a lot this summer,” he continued, “and I’m certainly glad nobody was in it. They just loved the place.”

Mr. Savage speculated that the cause of the blaze could have been lightening from the short but violent storm experienced by Islanders that evening.

“There were a lot of real close lightening strikes around here,” he added.

Dick Hambley is the father of Laura Colussi and the family’s Bay Estates neighbour. He noted that he awoke at around 4:30 am on Thursday and thought it strange that his daughter and her husband would have left for Elliot Lake and would have left their outside light on as a glow could be seen from his window.

Noises could also be heard from the house that sounded like small explosions—Mr. Savage noted that it almost sounded like ammunition exploding—and when Mr. Hambley realized it was actually his daughter’s summer home on fire, he immediately called 9-1-1.

“It was certainly shocking,” he said of the events.

Mr. Hambley said his daughter and her family were “taking it quite well,” but thought that it was still too early for the full effect of what has happened to hit home.

“They haven’t seen it yet, but I did take them some pictures,” he said.

After phoning for help, Mr. Hambley said he got out his garden hose and began to spray the wall closest to his home for fear of the fire spreading.

“My daughter was in Elliot Lake at a ball game and I thought it was crazy that you would leave here for that at the time, but I’m glad they did,” he added.

Fire chief Bailey explained that upon arrival of the department at approximately 5 am, about 12 minutes after receiving the call, the house was “pretty much gone. There was just one end wall and part of the front wall left.”

Mr. Bailey said he had a few theories as to what may have happened to the Bay Estates home, including one shared by both Mr. Savage and Mr. Hambley—lightening.

“All it would take is a power surge from lightening to make that happen,” he said, noting that the fire appeared to have stemmed from the basement as the floors were completely burned out with even the metal eye beams in the basement melting. “Just thank God there was no wind—that house was completely surrounded by trees.”

Mr. Hambley did say that the Colussi’s power box was located in the basement.

“Now they’ll just have to pick things up,” he said of his daughter and her family. “They’ll be right back as soon as they can build again, no matter how the insurance goes.”

“One lesson I’ve learned is that we should really keep our trees trimmed in from our buildings,” Mr. Hambley added.