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Bowser family welcomes baby in wake of devastating gas station fire

“It’s crazy because at about 9:50 on the 6th the fire had started, and on the 9th about 9:50 we were holding baby.”

Three days after Thom Flegel’s family business — Bowser Automotive — went up in flames, his fiancée, Grace McMahon, gave birth to a baby girl.

Undeterred, they called the baby Poppy Jane Phoenix Flegel, determined to see the business rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the Dec. 6 fire.

“It’s crazy because at about 9:50 on the 6th the fire had started, and on the 9th about 9:50 we were holding baby,” Flegel said. “It’s the only thing that’s kept my hope.”

They face many hurdles, however, starting with damage to the trailer the family lived in behind the business, which included an Esso gas station. For the time being, the new parents and baby are staying in his mother’s motor home.

“[The trailer] is going to need to be either repaired or replaced,” said Flegel. “The fire department was able to keep it so the fire didn’t burn the trailer down.”

Boxes of diapers and other baby things are no longer usable, and “years and years of tools” are gone, he said.

Both the trailer and business, which has been in the family for over 30 years, are insured, but Flegel, 29, said getting the business back to the way it was will take considerably more than they will receive from the insurance.

He said he was alerted to the fire last Tuesday when he got a call from the alarm company about motion in one of the repair bays. He went to investigate, and found the bay filled with smoke.

He realized a tow truck was on fire and took an extinguisher to it. “It looked like it might actually stop and then it just flared back up,” Flegel said.

The fire took off after that. The cause and origin are still under investigation.

Fortunately, there are still two intact tow trucks so he can continue to provide some of the services the business has provided over the years, including mechanical work, towing and welding.

Flegel said he feels awful for his nine employees, and for the fact that the business is a big part of his mother’s retirement plans.

“It’s just absolutely brutal,” he said. “I feel responsible for all these employees, and it’s Christmastime.”

He said the business had just been crowned champion of the local Christmas-light contest before the fire.

Flegel said he has been around the shop most of his life — his first job as a 10- or 11-year-old was pressure-washing the tow trucks and cleaning the shop floors.

From there, he earned his red-seal tickets in welding and automotive mechanics, and took over the operation when his father died a couple of years ago.

Deborah Nicol, who has organized an online fundraiser to help the young family get back in its feet, said the business has been an important part of the community, located about 20 kilometres north of Qualicum Beach, and is known for its personalized service.

“The stories of community members being helped out of precarious positions with Bowser Towing, to the pride and professionalism of a red-seal mechanic who went the extra mile to ensure the safety of the people in our community are a testament to this iconic business,” she said on the online fundraising page.

“We ask you to rally around the Flegel family, who have often come to you in your times of need. The monies from this fundraiser will help the family to begin again.”

The reaction from the community and all the support the family has been getting in the aftermath of the fire have been overwhelming, Flegel said.

“It means a lot to us and it’s been such a help.”

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