Past Times: Fire brigade at Vaila House

From The Shetland Times, Friday 27th February, 1959

Lerwick fire brigade had to make a quick dash to the west mainland on Wednesday morning, then transfer their equipment to a motor launch, in order to answer a call from the mansion house on the Isle of Vaila.

In Vaila House, which has frequently been described as the most luxurious mansion in the country, Miss Mary G. R. Foster, owner of the Vaila and Burrastow Estates, lives alone.

Her housekeeper and caretaker are Mr and Mrs David Hunter, who live in a house behind the mansion. Apart from them the only inhabitants of Vaila are a shepherd and his family.

It was when Mrs Hunter lit the fire in Miss Foster’s bedroom shortly after 8 a.m. that the alarm was raised. Flames roared up the chimney, and the iron fireplace became red-hot. Because of fear that the fire would not be confined to the chimney, the brigade was sent for.

They made good time to Burrastow – they were there within 55 minutes of the alarm being sounded in Lerwick. The shepherd, Mr Andrew Moncrieff, had crossed to Burrastow in the island launch to await the brigade’s arrival, but the brigade were unable to land at the pier near the house, because of the stormy weather. They went on to Ham pier, 1 1/2 miles from the house, where a trailer and tractor were waiting to convey their light equipment to the house.

Although nearly two hours had elapsed from the time the fire started until the brigade’s arrival, the blaze was still going strongly – but fortunately it had not spread, and they were able to bring it under control very quickly.

The firemaster, Mr George Leask, said it had been a wise precaution to send for the brigade in such circumstances, as Vaila House was a very valuable property, and there were few people available on the spot to render assistance.


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