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Roofer Liable for $2.3 Million in Damages for Church Fire

The Supreme Court of British Columbia recently found Sur-Del Roofing Limited responsible for a 2004 fire that destroyed a Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C. On December 11, 2004, Sur-Del's subcontracted crew, led by Chris Hutchings, was replacing a flat roof section of the church.

The work called for the old roof to be removed, then three layers of new material to be applied. The agreed-upon "20-year Torchflex System" specifies a fiberglass fireproof underlay, followed by a base layer and then a cap. Torching is used to adhere the products.

When torching is used, the B.C. Fire Code requires a 60-minute fire watch following the completion of work and a final inspection of the area four hours after work finishes. Code also requires that floodlights be used when torching is performed after dark.

The roofers claimed to have finished torching by 4:00 p.m., a few minutes before sunset. Hutchings said he then conducted a two-hour fire watch while he cleaned up and prepared for the next day's work. He said he checked for hot spots with his bare hands twice. He left at about 6:00 p.m. and was home in Langley, about an hour's drive away, by 7:00 p.m.

Two nearby neighbours testified that torch work continued, without floodlights, until 6:00 p.m., when the crew left for the day.

At about 10:00 p.m., the church's fire alarm sounded, but by the time the fire crews arrived, the fire was too far advanced to save the building.

Justice Loryl Russell believed the evidence of the neighbours and fire experts, finding the roofing company responsible for the fire due to its negligence in failing to apply the fireproof base layer, failing to conduct even a one-hour fire watch, and failing to illuminate the area sufficiently when work continued after sunset.

She awarded $2.3 million in damages, plus costs and interest.

To read the complete decision, go to

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