“We are all just getting over the shock of such a huge loss,” said Paul Williamson, president of the local gymnastics club that lost its building to a devastating fire on Halloween.
But, the North Valley Gymnastics Society is already planning to rebuild, and likely in the same location.
Around 20 Vernon Fire Rescue Services firefighters, along with RCMP, ambulance and utilities, responded to a structure fire on 31st Street around 7:15 a.m. on Oct. 31. When they got there, they found the building engulfed in flames.
Firefighters used a defensive approach to contain the blaze and keep it from spreading to neighbouring properties.
“Crew members worked quickly and diligently and did a very good job of containing this large fire,” Deputy Fire Chief Alan Hofsink said. “Unfortunately, though, the entire building has been lost.”
An excavator was used to demolish parts of the walls that were left standing for safety purposes. The cause of the blaze is unknown at this time, an investigation is underway.
Crews were called back to the club Tuesday morning to douse hot spots after the fire flared up again.
North Valley Gymnastics Coach and head recreation director Tori Aeichele told the Morning Star she and her two sisters were at the fire shortly before 9 a.m.
“She saw it – I can’t remember how she saw it – but she ran into our rooms, woke us up, didn’t tell us what was happening. She was like ‘get in the car. I have to show you this,’” she said. “We saw all the smoke and I said, ‘Oh no, that’s the gym’s direction.’ We came here and saw it firsthand.”
“I’m heartbroken,” Aeichele said. “I feel so bad for the kids because they love gymnastics. They really have fun. At the moment, they’re (fire department) saying it’s all gone. Can we bounce back from this? How do we do that?”
Also heartbroken was five-year-old Eira Callender after she, one of the estimated 500 registrants, saw what happened to her beloved club.
“She started naming off all the things she liked to do there like the balance beam and trampoline, and that it’s her favourite place,” mom Jess Morgan said. “She cried from Vernon to Armstrong when we found out.”
The North Valley Gymnastics Society had worked tirelessly to raise funds independently and through grants to purchase the former RV repair shop in 2019 after renting spaces that were too small for its growing membership.
Williamson said, in typical Vernon fashion, the community is rallying behind the club and plans to move ahead are formulating.
“Already the community is coming forward… past board members, corporate and individuals,” he said. “We are fully insured, other than business interruption. This, of course, could add up to a considerable amount, however, with community support, we will get through this as well.”
It’s only been two days, but Williamson said the club is already looking into setting up a temporary facility.
“We just have to find one,” he said. “The challenge is equipment, as availability and shipping time is limited. Worldwide. We can’t run until we get set up even for the most basic classes.”
As for rebuilding, Williamson said the club would like to rebuild in the same spot, depending on insurance conditions and other variables.
“Timing is the next question and we need to be prepared for that,” he said. “Rebuilding is a timely process, however, we will be diligent in keeping it moving forward.”