Chase history damaged by blaze

Museum: Second fire in four days has citizens speculating.

Chase Fire Chief Brent Chamberlain (right) speaks to Chase volunteer firefighters Wednesday about the fire damage to the Chase Museum.

Chase Fire Chief Brent Chamberlain (right) speaks to Chase volunteer firefighters Wednesday about the fire damage to the Chase Museum.

Hot flames and smoke seared a hole in the collective past of Chase overnight Tuesday.

While it will take time to determine what has been lost, it’s certain that the fire at the Chase Museum has taken its toll on Chase’s historical treasures. Police are calling the damage to the building extensive, even though it didn’t burn to the ground.

Roger Behn is president of the Chase and District Museum and Archives Society and was instrumental in creating the museum.

“I have no idea what’s lost, what’s not, what’s salvageable and what’s not. I can tell you, it will be a massive clean-up job inside,” he said Wednesday, pointing out that what happens next will depend on what the insurance company finds.

He said the extent of water damage is not yet known. There wasn’t too much put on the archives, he surmises, but the bell tower was doused with water which may have found its way there.

Fire chief Brent Chamberlain said the fire was mostly at the front of the building, which sustained extensive smoke and heat damage. He, too, said the extent of damage to the archives isn’t yet known.

Behn, and others, were understandably devastated when they saw the state of the museum Wednesday morning.

“I’ve seen an awful lot – your stomach falls down through the bottom of your feet, and what can you do?”

Tuesday night’s blaze, which was reported at 11:50 p.m., was the second in four days. Saturday night the museum was attacked by arsonists, report police, and that blaze was quickly extinguished.

The cause of Tuesday’s fire hadn’t been determined at press time.

“As for the rumours of a serial arsonist running around the Village of Chase lighting property on fire, Chase RCMP would like to dispel this rumour,” wrote Cpl. Skotnicki in a news release. “There is no evidence to suggest that the two incidents are related and police hope that this will allow the residents of Chase to rest easy.”

Chase RCMP are asking residents to report suspicious activities to the police and are seeking information “relating to the fire that was suspiciously set on Saturday night…”

Behn points out that Saturday’s blaze knocked out the alarm system, which was expected  to be repaired Tuesday but wasn’t. Similarly, Martin Dalsin, the village’s chief administrative officer, reported that the plan was to remove the archives after the fire but that hadn’t been done by Tuesday.

Deborah Chapman, who is curator of the Salmon Arm Museum and Archives, has done several exhibits for the Chase museum, including one on First Nations and one on forestry.

“It’s just so very sad. They’ve got a wonderful collection of Montgomery photographs,” she said, explaining he was a professional photographer who travelled all over B.C. and made Chase his home. Among his images were many photos of the Adams River Lumber Co.

She noted what wonderful community support the Chase Museum has had over the years, such as the roof recently repaired with residents’ help. The museum is housed in the historic Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church built by Father LeJeune in 1910. It operated as a church until 1984 and has housed the museum since 1987. Some of the museum’s exhibits can be viewed online at http://chasemuseum.ca.

A museum is the place for community memories, Chapman says.

“You feel it’s safer in a museum because when it’s left in individual hands, the next generation comes and says, ‘we don’t know these people’ and throws them out.”

One of Behn’s favourite historical items is the big painting of a bucking bronco and another man on a horse that hung on the end wall of the museum.

“It was originally the false front on the livery stable and the livery stable stood where the Royal Bank does now,” he says, explaining that it was hanging on the wall farthest away from the fire.

“There’s a bit of hope.”