As reported in Penguin News on Friday a camp house with a colourful history, Burnside House near Goose Green, burned to the ground on Wednesday as a result of what Falklands Landholdings General Manager (FLH) Owen Summers described as a "freak accident."
Courtesy of Captain Chris Collier (a paratrooper passing by at the time of the fire) the following photographs have been released by Media Operations.
The house is owned by FLH as part of Goose Green farm, but is rented to Wayne McCormick and his partner Alison Baker.
Mr Summers confirmed that it was believed that while local builder Wayne McCormick was installing new windows in the old house a spark from an angle grinder may have blown up into the eaves of the house igniting the loft space.
Goose Green Manager Keith Alazia confirmed this was likely, adding that the very old insulation in the house was made of thin felt and horse hair - a flammable combination.
Mr McCormick and his colleagues returned to the house to eat lunch but then spotted smoke outside. When he looked in the loft space it was already ablaze, explained Mr Alazia.
A spokesperson for the Falkland Islands Fire and Rescue Service said the fire was reported at 13.39 on Wednesday whereupon one major tender, two fire equipped Land Rovers and ten fire fighters were dispatched.
By the time the team arrived the house was "a total loss" however as a result of quick thinking and fast work by Goose Green Manager Keith Alazia, six farmhands and passers-by including Marty Smith and two paratroopers on a battlefield tour, using the Goose Green fire pump, the outbuildings were saved from igniting.
Mr Alazia said, "We were about 15-20 minutes to Burnside from Goose Green and the lads did exceptionally well to get water on the fire so incredibly quickly."
Fire was still burning under the tin cladding on the ground when the Fire Service arrived so they were able to dampen down the area to prevent the fire burning into the ground. A group of fire fighters and military police from MPA also attended the scene, but unfortunately the military fire appliance became bogged when it was driven off the road.
The house, which Mr Summers reported was insured, burned to the ground in less than 90 minutes.
Mr Alazia, Ms Baker and Mr Summers asked that their grateful thanks be passed to all of those people who helped on the day.
Acting Chief Inspector Len McGill confirmed that the fire had been set accidentally by the occupants of the property and that there were no suspicious circumstances.
Burnside House, built in 1928, has an interesting history. At the eastern end of Darwin Harbour and therefore a little removed from Darwin Settlement and even further from Goose Green, Burnside was where the Darwin stud rams and ewes were kept, in isolation from the main flocks. Having always a plentiful supply of water from the brook or 'burn' which gave it its name, Burnside was also where the main sheep dip for Darwin farm was located.
With the coming of the single-line telephone system from Stanley, Burnside became an important communication hub, because it was there that the line divided, to go south to Goose Green, Walker Creek and North Arm, or north to San Carlos.
The wife of the shepherd who lived at Burnside House controlled the switches which diverted the calls one way or another and therefore occupied a position of great power.
For many years in the seventies this was Mrs Jessie Phillips and any call to Stanley from points beyond Burnside began with a call to Jessie – three short bursts on the telephone's handle – to ask for her aid. Jessie would then put the switches over to cut off whichever branch line was superfluous and call one or two other subscribers along the Stanley line – maybe at Swan Inlet or Laguna Isla – to "ring together" to get enough electricity fizzing down the line to attract the attention of the Stanley operator.
By 1982 and the invasion of the Falklands by Argentine forces, Burnside House was occupied by Gerald Morrison and his wife Kay, who with Gerald's mother Molly and a family friend Jim Harvey came very close to becoming the first civilian casualties of the war, when the house was attacked by A Company of the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (2 Para).
Believing that they had received fire from the house and wishing to ensure that there were no pockets of enemy left behind the line of their advance on Goose Green, the Paras' attack was a ferocious one as Gerald Morrison himself relates in 'The Falklands War Then And Now':
"Then the house was hit, bullet fire first, all over the place – mother had a row of eleven bullet holes just above her head. A grenade came through the window of one bedroom but luckily there was no one in it. It lifted the roof of the bedroom about five inches and all the furniture caught fire. We thought we were caught in cross-fire but then we heard them shouting orders in English and a bit of swearing.
"We started shouting that we were civilians. It seemed a lifetime before they heard us but I don't suppose it was long. One fellow answered, but I don't think you would want to write down exactly what he said. He wanted us to surrender. Jim and I went out and they made us stand with our hands against the house. They were full of apologies then – but it was a bit late."We counted 130 holes in the house afterwards and then gave up counting."
Fortunately, the only casualty from Burnside House's first baptism of fire was Gerald Morrison's dog which was shot through the jaw and later had to be put down.