Firefighters hose down the PQB News offices on Wednesday, Nov. 9. (Michael Briones photo)

Firefighters hose down the PQB News offices on Wednesday, Nov. 9. (Michael Briones photo)

WOLF: Massive Parksville blaze sees ‘The News’ become the news

COLUMN: Despite best efforts of firefighters, 6 businesses razed

Many years ago, a grizzled old editor gave me some advice.

“Wolf,” he barked, never once having referred to me by my first name. “When you cover the news, you don’t want to be the news.”

Young me was somewhat delighted that a column I had written had attracted the interest of national media and a variety of outlets wanted to chat.

Publicity is good, I reasoned, but the boss was having none of it.

“When you cover the news, you don’t want to be the news,” he repeated, dismissing me from his office with a wave of the hand.

While I didn’t completely agree with him then, those words echoed in my mind Wednesday night.

“When you cover the news, you don’t want to be the news,” never rang more true than it did, as I stood, shocked, horrified and transfixed, watching firefighters battle valiantly as our PQB News/Vancouver Island Daily office was reduced to charred rubble by a massive blaze.

I received the text which first said “the British Bobby is on fire”, followed by one that said “it’s La Belle that’s on fire”.

The British Bobby is, of course, the iconic Parksville landmark restaurant. La Belle Parksville further to the right (road view) of the British Bobby in the Parksville Heritage Centre.

When I arrived, reporter Michael Briones was already on-scene, as were dozens of firefighters from a variety of area departments, plus a host of onlookers watching the grim scene unfold.

RELATED: PHOTOS: Investigation continues into massive blaze at Parksville Heritage Centre

Our office is two doors from the British Bobby. At first, as I watched firefighters rain water onto the roof from a sky-high ladder and blast even more from ground level, I thought “they might be able to save our office”.

Wrong. Flames burst through the ceiling and then quickly advanced into our office, years of old newspapers, personal mementos and everything else engulfed in flames.

“We are definitely the news now,” I thought.

I then focused on the business beside us, the Heritage Animal Hospital.

At first again, I thought it might be saved. Then a fresh explosion of flames told me I was wrong. I could feel the heat from the road.

I sat and watched some more, then well into the night eventually drove home for a fitful (OK, non-existent) sleep. I’ve always enjoyed smelling like a campfire. I may never feel that way again.

In the morning, I came back to survey the scene. Complete devastation.

Trying to keep it light, I bemoaned the loss of my favourite Calvin Klein topcoat. If you look inside the window on the right in the attached photo, that was my desk.

Not much left.

But my primary thoughts then and now are all with the other businesses affected.

The animal hospital, the restaurants, Upward Refillery and NextGen Automation. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.

As a news organization, we will forge ahead. Thanks to technology, we still managed to get the story out that night (“Wolf, you don’t want to be the news”), we’ll still have a print product this week and our talented higher-ups will have us rehomed. (Sincere thanks to all those who reached out with offers of temporary office/warehouse space, as well as the many well-wishers).

For the other businesses, it may be a slower process.

They’ve poured their hearts, souls, talents and resources into their livelihoods. At a time when business was finally on the uptick as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, this is quite the gut punch.

Rebuilding may take some time. I know the community will come together to embrace and support all of them when that time comes, hopefully soon.

Also endless thanks to the firefighters, whose efforts routinely continue to amaze. We are lucky to have each and every one of them.

And I’ll be 100 per cent fine never being the news ever again.

PQB News/VI Daily editor Philip Wolf can be reached via email at philip.wolf@blackpress.ca.

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