A Winnipeg fire official says the Speedway International plant that exploded into flames last month did not have an inspection or permit to manufacture biodiesel, but the company insists that it followed proper procedures.
Deputy fire chief Bill Clark says firefighters had no idea of what they were dealing with when the Speedway plant, located in the St. Boniface industrial park, burst into flames.
Clark said the only permit on the city records for Speedway was an occupancy permit issued in 1998, when the company was manufacturing windshield washing fluid.
The Oct. 1 blaze could be seen for kilometres, when the fuel tanks exploded.
Clark was there and said crews had no idea of what they were facing when they arrived.
"The second there was an explosion was the point we pulled our crews back, because we realized then that we were dealing with … this was not windshield washing fluid. This was something completely different," Clark told CBC News on Tuesday.
'Why didn't we know?'
Clark said businesses are required to apply for a new permit whenever they make changes to what they have on site, and Speedway did not do that.
"So why didn't we know? Well, the point is, how do you know what you don't know?" he said.
"It's a key question … how is it that we're supposed to know something that we have no ability to know about?"
He's not sure if there will be fines placed on the company as a result.
The fire, which ignited at about 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, forced the evacuation of about 100 nearby homes west of the plant and roared loudly as it shot flames and choking, heavy black smoke high into the sky.
The blaze caused $15 million in damage. No one was hurt.
It was later deemed the fire was caused by the spontaneous combustion of an oily substance, according to fire officials.
Company says it undertook permit processes
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Speedway International says it went through all the permitting processes that it understood were required.
Speedway was granted an occupancy permit for a windshield wiper fluid manufacturing plant in 2000, and a fire inspection was done at the St. Boniface facility the following year, according to the company.
"Owners of Speedway International have never been informed about a requirement for a fire safety plan either verbally or in writing," the company statement reads in part.
The company says when it wanted to expand its business to include biodiesel, officials submitted architectural and engineering drawings to the City of Winnipeg as part of an application to change its existing occupancy permit.
Speedway International says it was asked to make some changes "regarding the handling of windshield washer fluid" and made those changes accordingly.
"Speedway International made the required changes and issued correspondence that the changes were made by the end of 2009 and commenced open operation of the biodiesel facility," the statement says.
"After filing the change in occupancy paperwork and making the required operational changes Speedway International operated on the assumption that it had fulfilled its requirements with the city and province."
Late on Tuesday, a city spokesperson told CBC News that officials stand by what they have said about the Speedway International matter.
More inspections needed, says premier
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger says more fire inspections are needed to ensure large facilities like Speedway International are safe.
"We want to make sure that these facilities — wherever they are — are safe, and fire inspections obviously need to be done more frequently," Selinger told reporters.
"That's one of the things we can review; we have a special review committee."
Selinger said the review will be completed and its recommendations will be acted on soon.
"I think you will see best practices adopted very quickly," he said. "We could see regulatory changes as early as this spring."