Burning barge of junk cars triggers air quality warning across Metro Vancouver
Flames, dark smoke spew from massive scrap pile burning on Fraser River in Surrey
A raging barge fire on the Surrey side of the Fraser River has triggered an air quality advisory across Metro Vancouver due to "intermittent high concentrations of fine particulate matter."
The huge blaze at Schnitzer Steel near the eastern foot of the Pattullo Bridge broke out early Friday in a massive pile of scrap cars, appliances and metal floating on the river, spreading acrid smoke across the region.
"It's a challenge to get access to this fire because three sides are surrounded by water," said Surrey Deputy Fire Chief John Lehmann.
"The barge is probably 250 feet in length and the fire is burning in the middle of it. Given that our crews could only access it from the ramp, we're only able to get water on the front portion of the barge at this time."
A fireboat from Vancouver and tug with water spraying capability are also assisting in the effort.
An official from the Vancouver Port Authority said Friday afternoon the fire is now contained and isn't in jeopardy of spreading.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Surrey?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Surrey</a> Barge fire smoke roiling 4 hours now near metal recycling scrapyard. <a href="https://t.co/Kyj0ZyM5kx">pic.twitter.com/Kyj0ZyM5kx</a>—@ybrend
In a written statement, Schnitzer said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"The barge was comprised of crushed auto bodies that had been drained of fluids and properly processed for end of life, and assorted light iron such as washers and dryers," said company spokesman Colin Kelly.
Schnitzer Steel is an international metal recycling and steel manufacturer based in Portland, Oregon.
Toxic smoke concerns
Witnesses say they heard a number of small explosions and the huge plume of dark smoke was visible from kilometres away.
"The scrap material likely contains plastics and upholstery — that's what's burning, not the metal itself," said Lehmann.
Surrey barge fire producing considerable smoke. If you encounter smoke, seek shelter inside, close windows and doors, reduce indoor pollution sources. If you experience symptoms follow the advice of your healthcare provider. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AirQuality?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AirQuality</a> <a href="https://t.co/qyfTAdCeW5">https://t.co/qyfTAdCeW5</a>—@MetroVancouver
AMIX Group, a neighbouring business, sent its employees home due to the heavy smoke.
"We've shut down our site ... because of the air quality," said CFO Rob Dhari.
Burnaby resident Teresa Heitzmaan said she rushed over after finding out about the fire, worried for her mother who lives three blocks away in the Bridgeview neighbourhood of Surrey.
"She has a sleep apnea machine ... and we phoned her 10 times to inform her to shut the windows," she said. "It's not a good smell. It's like a chemical smell and we could see from the [Pattullo] bridge that a barge with cars was burning."
That isn’t storm clouds, it’s smoke from a barge fire on the Fraser river. New Westminster smells like burning oil. <a href="https://t.co/1K72tSeBCr">pic.twitter.com/1K72tSeBCr</a>—@marthawithanm
One onlooker told CBC News that flames were shooting over 20 metres into the air at the height of the fire.
Barge on fire under the patullo bridge <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/surreybc?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#surreybc</a> <a href="https://t.co/0c4kJalc9P">pic.twitter.com/0c4kJalc9P</a>—@NJMcChillan
The fire was called in a 4:40 a.m. PT.
With files from Yvette Brend