Stubborn 1,000-tire fire keeps firefighters busy for more than 7 hours

It took 15 fire departments seven and a half hours to extinguish the blaze at an Upper Rawdon, N.S., auto salvage yard.

No one injured in the fire at Upper Rawdon, N.S., auto salvage yard

Fire departments were called to the tire fire around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday. (Submitted by Michael Blois)

As fire tore through a massive pile of used tires and black smoke filled the air, Rawdon fire Chief Lee Roulston could only think: "We're going to need more water." 

They needed a lot more water. 

It took 15 fire departments seven and a half hours overnight Tuesday into Wednesday to put out the tire fire at an auto salvage yard in Upper Rawdon, N.S., five more departments than the Department of Natural Resources had initially estimated.

The Rawdon District Volunteer Fire Department was called to the scene just west of Shubenacadie around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday. By the time crews arrived, the fire was already huge.

"It was probably 50 to 80 feet around with I'm going to say, flames I would guess 50 to 60 feet in the air," said Roulston.  

He estimates a pile of 1,000 tires was on fire.

No one was injured and no property besides the tires was damaged. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Dangerous fumes

Firefighters could feel the heat from the flames from more than 45 metres away, said Roulston. 

"The guys was really getting dehydrated, like going in for 20 minutes, maybe 15 minutes and they had to come back out because it was just that dried out that they was just, it was bad," said Deputy Chief James Robinson.

The fire was also belching out thick black smoke and firefighters had to be careful of it.

"The area this was in, there wasn't a huge concern with explosions, there weren't any vehicles or anything around the tire pile. But of course fumes is always an issue when you get something like that on fire. Most people on the team were in breathing apparatus," said Roulston. 

Firefighters with the Rawdon District Volunteer Fire Department organize their gear after Tuesday night's fire. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Burning tires can release volatile organic compounds, toxic heavy metals and dangerous gases like sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides, said Jong Kim, an assistant professor of toxicology and environmental public health at Dalhousie University. 

He said people could develop a range of symptoms depending on how much of the fumes they inhaled. 

"In general … I can say that in the more susceptible population, including elderly and children or pre-existing cardiovascular disease or respiratory disease patient, will suffer a lot," he said.

Excavator needed to help put out fire

The fire at the salvage yard started to expand into the surrounding trees but firefighters managed to beat it back before it could cause too much damage. 

Roulston said tire fires are difficult to put out because the rubber burns so well. They're especially difficult to put out when they're in a heap. 

"The pile, you could put the top of it out, but it will still be burning underneath. We actually ended up bringing in an excavator to move the pile so we could completely extinguish it."

The work of the province's Environment Department is just beginning. Its employees are in the process of inspecting the site of the fire. 

About the Author

David Burke

Reporter

David Burke is a reporter in Halifax who covers everything from politics to science. His reports have been featured on The National, World Report and As it Happens, as well as the Information Morning shows in Halifax and Cape Breton.