LITTLE COMPTON — Eleven Little Compton Scouts, on a camping trip last weekend in the far northwest corner of the state, were awakened by a roaring blaze that consumed a cabin next to theirs.
After being the first to spot and report the fire, they were forced temporarily to evacuate their own cabin and watch the fire fighting action from a safe distance huddled together in vans to keep warm.
Their poise in the emergency has won them accolades, and a commendation — “in recognition of the bravery displayed” — that is to be presented by the Little Compton Town Council on Thursday evening.
The boys — nine Boy Scouts and two Cub Scouts — left town for the campground Friday at about 5 p.m. in a caravan of three minivans and pickup truck towing a trailer.
Their destination was Buck Hill Scout Reservation near Pascoag (Burrillville), a 1,600 acre woodland on Wakefield Pond that features multiple campsites and cabins. It’s owned by the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
They returned home Sunday having experienced a camping trip they never could have imagined.
With them were four fathers: Mike Rousseau, cub master for Cub Scout Pack #10; Bob Harvey, scout master for Troop #29 Little Compton, and Tim O’Toole and Jim Lusignan, both assistant scoutmasters.
Before the trip, the boys had shopped for all their food, and divided up tasks that would need doing. They were to do all the cooking and cleaning up themselves, said Mr. Harvey.
“We do a cabin camp out every year,” said Mr. Harvey. “We do some sledding and playing in the snow. Not too much of a structure. Little Compton ‘s so flat they don’t get much of a chance to do sledding. But getting them away from the TV — sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.”
The campground is divided into themed areas with cabins (many with small kitchens) and buildings designed to match the theme.
The group stayed in Hamilton Lodge. Several hundred feet away, through a stand of trees, was the ill-fated Pulver Lodge. The Little Compton Scouts were the only ones in the campground over the weekend.
“We were camping next to the building that caught fire,” said Mr. Rousseau. Pulver Lodge, now destroyed, was about 1,500 square feet, with a basement, and under renovation, he said. No one was there it at the time of the fire.
“About 10 p.m., after the boys had all gone to bed,” Mr Rousseau said, “a few looked outside and said they thought they saw a reflection, and one boy said ‘the house is on fire.’ ”
Scoutmaster Bob Harvey said “it was 10 exactly. One of the dads looked at his watch.”
Mr. Rousseau’s cell phone was dead, but others called and got through to the fire department, though the cell phone calls were shunted through Connecticut, he said.
It was 20 minutes before the first firefighters arrived, said Mr. Harvey. Eventually, “a lot of people showed up, from Burrillville and other villages around,” he said.
The cabins all have propane tanks, he said, “so to be on the safe side we pulled back, and just as a precaution moved the boys further away. Because it was a cold night, we kept them in the vans.”
“There was a lot of snow on the ground,” Mr. Rousseau said.
Pulver Lodge “was an older structure, built in 1970,” Mr. Harvey said. “It went up pretty quickly,” he said. “Some of the trees close to it started to burn, but it was so wet there wasn’t much of a chance it would spread.”
Mr. Rousseau said “it was probably burning before we saw it. There was no smell, no smoke. We actually saw the roof go down.”
Through it all the boys remained calm. “There was no panicking or anything like that,” Mr. Harvey said.
“They did what they were supposed to do. They followed the lead. At one point a 15 year old boy was in charge of getting them into the vehicles to pull away, and told me, ‘I’m not going in until my boys are in the van.’ ”
Mr. Harvey, a retired police officer and the lead scoutmaster for the weekend, said, “it was an unexpected situation. They did very well. Initially they were a bit apprehensive, but they settled down pretty quickly. It’s tough for anybody in an emergency situation, but they kept their heads. They’re a good groups of boys. They did well.”
Mr. Rousseau said the group leaders called the parents at midnight, to inform them about the event and tell them all was well.
Polly Allen is the mother of two of the boys, Cyrus, 13, and Xan, 10. “I’m extremely proud of the boys and the adults. Everyone did a remarkable job,” she said.
“I often feel that people only speak up when something bad happens,” she said. “and not enough when good things happen.”
The boys being recognized are Ben Lusignan, Noah Rousseau, Cyrus Allen, James O’Toole, Nick Scott, Noah O’Toole, Lucas Corr, Tom Demers, Alex Ryan, Zachary Rousseau, and Xan Allen.