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Neighbour comes to aid in wake of business fire

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Firefighters blast water on hot spots after an early morning blaze gutted the Northern Lite camper factory.
Fire may have destroyed a camper factory early Wednesday, but its employees can look forward to getting back to work soon.
The president of Campion Marine has offered his boat-making facility to Northern Lite Manufacturing so staff can resume building the truck campers there. Brock Elliott followed the smoke on his way to work and told employees to have the owner call him.
When owner Mac Donkin showed up at his office a short time later, Elliott told him he can move his operation to fulfil a 26-camper contract that must be completed by May.
"You bake a cake for your neighbour," Elliott said Wednesday. "I looked him in the eye and said . . . 'I can't imagine what you've been through. The stress would be devastating for me. I'm here to say yes so you can get on with whatever business you've got to get on with.'"
Donkin, who started the company in 1993, had tears in his eyes soon after. He'd been up all night and today is payday. He told his 40 employees they'll be building the campers, which fit on the back of pickup trucks, as soon as possible.
"Campion really came to the plate right away," he said. "We think we can meet our obligations."
Alarms went off in the Totom Avenue factory just after midnight. Heavy smoke billowed from the 18,000-square-foot building as the first fire crew arrived. Firefighters went seven meters inside, but backed out when they heard crackling from the intense heat, said Capt. Steve Wallick.
The roof collapsed, crushing the interior and leaving the walls standing. No one was hurt, but it was too dangerous to
enter because the walls might collapse, he said. Firefighters stopped the flames from spreading to nearby buildings and stayed on scene all night and day Wednesday to douse the hot spots.
The factory uses fibreglass and resin to build the campers. A hazardous-materials team and city-utility workers used booms to stop the polluted hose-runoff from entering nearby Mill Creek and covered the storm drains with plastic.
The effort appears to have saved the creek from contamination. A hydro-vac truck was to suck up the pool of waste-water by this morning for disposal elsewhere, said Deputy Fire Chief Larry Hollier of the Kelowna Fire Dept.
The concrete and cinder-block building is a write-off. Fourteen campers under construction were destroyed. The company's main four moulds, each worth more than $100,000, were vaporized.
The business is insured, but getting back up to speed will be difficult. Campion will help rebuild the moulds by reverse-engineering them based on the undamaged campers stored outside, said Elliott.
Campion is running one shift when it has the capability to run three.
"If we have to, we can ramp this thing up," Elliott said. "They'll need upholstery work done and we have an upholstery department . . . We have wiring and electricians here. We have plumbers here - all the skill sets."
Northern Lite produces 250-300 campers a year and distributes them throughout Canada, the U.S. and Australia. The company's documents and computers were lost in the fire, but a staff member backed up the data recently, Donkin said.
The fire department hired an excavator to make the site safe for an investigator to sift through the rubble this morning. It was too dangerous to search for a cause Wednesday, said Hollier.
Several other business owners have also extended a hand to help the company.
"It's nice to see the community pull together like that," Hollier said.

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