An ongoing RCMP investigation into a suspicious fire that destroyed three partially built condominium buildings in Fairmont Hot Springs on the morning of December 22 has so far revealed no results. The condos were part of Columbia Eagles Resort, an unfinished 116-unit development located adjacent to Highway 93/95 just south of the entrance to Fairmont resort.
“The cause hasn’t been determined,” Columbia Valley Rural Fire & Rescue Services Chief Jim Miller told The Valley Echo on January 3. “Because of the extreme heat and the conditions of (the fire), they probably won’t be able to determine exactly what started it.
“When they burn that hot there is virtually no evidence left.”
When ten or so firefighters with the Fairmont and Windermere fire departments arrived on scene after witnesses called in the fire, they discovered the condominium buildings completely engulfed in flames. There were no occupants in any of the unfinished units no injuries as a result of the blaze, which lasted about three hours.
Although he views the fire as a major setback, his company remains committed to rebuilding the destroyed condos and completing the resort’s development, said Columbia Eagles Resorts Inc. president Wayne Franchuk, the developer behind the project.
“Our plan was to re-launch the marketing program and construction of the project in the spring and we had been making plans to that end,” said Franchuk, an Edmonton resident who has been coming to the Columbia Valley for 40 years. Franchuk’s daughter Lara McCormack is a co-owner of From Scratch — A Mountain Kitchen in Fairmont Hot Springs. “We’ve got the setback of someone who obviously doesn’t want to see any change… but we’ll get by it.”
His company purchased the land ten years ago. Five years of development process and four public hearings later, construction on the resort stalled when Canadian Western Bank (CWB) pulled its financing after the U.S. financial crisis hit in 2008.
“In July 2008, we had 58 units sold,” he said . “We had at that time we had all our underground servicing in and had started on the construction above grade. We’ve never really stopped construction but people don’t see what’s happening inside of those buildings.”
Columbia Eagles Resort Inc. was left trying to continue the project using its own funds and hired local builders Dusk Construction to work on the site while working on bringing in new equity to replace the bank financing.
“The project has never been bankrupt because we never had a bank,” Franchuk said. “We had to slow our construction schedule because quite honestly I didn’t have $25 million to finish off the project.”
At completion, Columbia Eagles Resort will consist of eight chalet buildings, plus a main lodge that will house all the amenities including a spa, food services, and more. Franchuk describes the condominiums as privately-owned condo hotel units, but not timeshares. Owners will have the option of putting them into a rental pool or keeping them for their own personal use.
“It’s a boutique facility, very unique, it would be truly five star, something the valley region has always needed, it still needs,” he said.
“It would employ over 200 people, that’s not counting the construction personnel and we’ve spent almost ten million dollars; people don’t see money in the ground — the site is totally serviced.”
The five condos destroyed by the December 22 blaze had already been sold prior to the CWB reneging on their funding commitment. Subsequent to the hibernation of construction, the buildings were not insured.
“We carried insurance when we were working full time on the site; we have had liability insurance but we had no damage or loss insurance,” Franchuk said.
He estimates it will take three and a half months to rebuild the destroyed condos back to the construction stage they were at then complete them.
“We’ve made our commitment,” he said. “I’ve always had a good feeling for the area.”
Fire officials are currently looking for witnesses and anyone with any information is asked to contact Miller at the Windermere Fire Hall at 250-342-6214.
“No one has come forward at this point,” Miller said.