Keith Donkin, General Manager for Northern Lite, reveals the story behind the devastating Northern Lite fire in February, and the decision to rebuild. Northern Lite is coming back!
The phone rang around 9:00am on Wednesday, February 26th. It was Roy Garland, a long time Truck Camper Magazine reader, fellow rally goer, and a good friend.
“Hi Roy!” I heard Angela say from the next room. Then there was a long pause. I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard Angela’s reaction. “Oh no!” she exclaimed, “Oh no.” She kept repeating it over and over. When I walked into the room Angela looked at me and said, “Northern Lite burned down last night.” “Oh no.” I said. “Oh no.”
Fortunately, the local Kelowna, British Columbia press was reporting that no one was injured during the fire. The fire had occurred in the middle of the night, so no Northern Lite employees were in the building. The fire fighters had read the dangerous situation correctly and none of their brave men and women were injured. According to the reporters on the scene, the most important hurdle had been cleared.
As a media organization, we decided to wait on reporting the fire until we had an official statement from Northern Lite management. Just a week and a half earlier we had worked the Springfield RV Show with Keith Donkin, General Manager of Northern Lite. We texted Keith and let him know that we would hold the news until we had the news from the source. In our opinion, it would be irresponsible to do otherwise.
When we heard back from Keith, it was clear that there were a lot of issues and concerns still outstanding. There would be no easy answer as to when and how Northern Lite would rebuild, at least not for a while.
Keith asked for our patience and promised we would be the first to know, when he did. As the days and weeks passed, we received emails and phone calls from Northern Lite dealers, customers, and would-be customers asking when Northern Lite would return. Just over five weeks later, we finally have the good news.
The following is an interview with Keith Donkin, General Manager for Northern Lite.
Above: The Northern Lite factory fire on February 26, 2014
TCM: Tell us what happened.
Keith: On the morning of February 26th, 2014, my dad received a call just after midnight. The fire alarm at the factory had been triggered and there was a fire at the plant.
After Dad left, Mom phoned me. Dad arrived at the plant earlier than I did and the fire trucks were just ahead of him. When they got there, smoke was coming from all sides of the building. The fire was heavily involved after that.
The firemen attempted to enter the office to recover computer equipment, but it was spreading too fast. There was a lot of wood and other combustible material in the factory. Once the fire got going, it went fast. The plant burned aggressively for eighteen hours. There were fourteen campers on the line at the time of the fire.
Above: The plant burned agressively for 18 hours
The cause of the fire has not been figured out. We do know that it didn’t start in the fiberglass or cabinet shop. The fire started in the middle of the factory, but it burned so hot that the investigators couldn’t find the real cause.
We are sure there was no arson because the security system was not triggered. There was nothing suspicious about the fire. It could have been caused by a roof top heating unit, but we don’t know. Experts from Vancouver were brought in to investigate, but even they determined the fire burned too hot to know the exact cause.
Once the fire was out, there was an environmental study done to look over the building and property. That process took five weeks. This past Thursday we got the report that the site and building are not contaminated.