Despite the rain, the Rotary Christmas Parade brought thousands to the streets of downtown Chilliwack in the evening of Saturday, Dec. 5.
The route was packed as the floats made their way through the downtown core one by one.
But Santa almost didn’t make it to the show.
Shortly after 2 a.m on Dec. 5, AJ Hutchinson posted a photo to a Chilliwack Facebook group of a float in flames, with the caption, “Put out a fire tonight on my way home. Why would someone light the Santa float for the Christmas Parade on fire the night before the parade? Not so nice…”
In a conversation with The Progress, Hutchinson said that he was on his way home when he saw something burning in the back parking lot of Chilliwack Secondary School (CSS).
According to CSS teacher and float designer Steve Anderson, students had been building Santa’s float on Friday evening, finishing up around 11 p.m.
They then unplugged everything, stowed the generator and headed home, with the expectation that they were ready for the parade the following day.
When Hutchinson and his friends realized what was burning, they “took immediate action” to put it out. They started pulling off pieces of cotton ‘snow’ and stomped out the flames.
“[We] had to put the fire out,” Hutchinson said. “Couldn’t have that many children disappointed at the parade.”
Hutchinson’s friend called 911 to report the fire while he continued to stomp out remaining flames.
Fortunately, the fire was put out while it was still relatively small, so it was mostly contained to the back of the float.
Assistant Chief of the Chilliwack Fire Department, Fire Prevention Mike Bourdon said that crews were called to the scene to assess the damage.
“Someone had maybe lit the cotton as they walked by,” Bourdon said. “There was no damage to the vehicle.”
But there was still a lot of repair work to be done on the float.
Around 8 a.m. on Saturday, Anderson saw a plethora of texts and phone calls from students and friends telling him what they had seen and read on Facebook.
By 8:30 a.m., Anderson was at the scene checking out the damage.
“It was burnt,” he said.
“In effect, all the Christmas lights from a quarter of the way back [on the truck] and all the way around were burned and melted. The framing and much of the wood was charred. Power and extension cords were burned.”
“Luckily, the truck trailer didn’t catch fire.”
Anderson, with the help from students past and present, quickly began the repair. They put out the word through social media and the radio for help.
“Community support is never a challenge with the parade,” parade coordinator Raymond Cauchi said. This incident was one where the community exemplified the spirit of giving.
By mid-day, there were upwards of 30 people helping out with the repairs, and bringing plenty of coffee and doughnuts to fuel the efforts.
They stripped down the wood, brought in all new ‘snow,’ and chicken wire to hold it in place, and rebuilt the deck wiring system.
They had the float all fixed up and put back together just in time to drive it over to the parade, around 4 p.m.
“I’m always amazed at how people can take a possible tragedy, in some sense, and make it a success through sheer generosity,” Cauchi said.
As for the cause, Anderson is sure that “it was set.”
“There was no power on the truck,” he said. And they had never had an issue building the float in the 16 years prior.
Ultimately, “what someone had tried to do to screw it up, actually turned into a great community effort to come together to fix it,” Anderson said.
With the quick action from the community, Santa and all his reindeer made it to the parade on time.
As he prepared to phone the winners, Cauchi commended all of this year’s floats, which were “super creative” and “amazingly beautiful.”
The Rotary Christmas Parade has announced the following winners for 2015:
1st Place – AD Rundle2nd Place – Chilliwack Adventist Christian School3rd Place – Chilliwack Landing Preschool and Kindergarten
Best Cooperation Small:
1st Place – Foreman Equipment2nd Place – Weld-A-Quip3rd Place – Heritage Chiropractic
1st Place – Prairie Coast Equipment2nd Place – Caliber Equipment3rd Pace – Denim abnd Diamonds Drill Team
1st Place – Vintage Car Club of Canada2nd Place – Rosedale Fire Department3rd Place – Chilliwack Golf Club
Best Cooperation Large:
1st Place – Star 98.32nd Place – Shaw Cable Systems3rd Place – London Drugs
1st Place – Chilliwack Society of Community Living2nd Place – Chilliwack School of Performing Arts3rd Place – Chilliwack Minor Football Giants
Best Entertainment Float:
Chilliwack School of Performing Arts
The winners will be celebrated with trophies at the awards ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. at the Coast Hotel.