1990 was the year of the tire fire in Canada

You could have been forgiven for thinking the news was repeating itself when a huge tire fire broke out in Quebec in 1990.

Separate fires at tire dumps in Ontario and Quebec both made the news that year

Tire fire breaks out in St-Amable, Que.

33 years ago
Duration 2:20
A huge fire breaks out at a tire dump in St-Amable, Que., on May 16, 1990.

The 3.5 million tires didn't exactly pile up in St-Amable, Que., overnight, but the fire at the tire dump there started pretty quickly.

Worse, it had long been expected that such a fire would happen eventually.

"This is Quebec's largest tire dump and government officials have been worried this would happen for a long time," the CBC's Paul Workman explained on The National on May 16, 1990.

firefighter walks on field in front of fire with thick black smoke emerging from a pile of tires
A view of the tire fire in St-Amable, Que., on May 16, 1990. (The National/CBC Archives)

"Three-and-a-half million tires described as one of Quebec's most urgent environmental problems," Workman continued, as viewers saw pictures of the orange flames emanating from the massive mound of discarded tires at the site.

"Tonight, a glowing mass, crowned with a huge plume of black, billowing smoke."

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the fire, though Workman said the tire dump owner suspected it had been deliberately set.

Firefighters at scene of a tire fire
Firefighters are seen working at the scene of the St-Amable, Que., tire fire on May 16, 1990. (The National/CBC Archives)

Workman reported the fire had started in a corner and then spread to the entire pile, despite efforts to prevent that from happening.

According to a subsequent report from the National Research Council, the fire started around 3 p.m. that day. Some 20 per cent of the tires were on fire within two hours. By 9:45 p.m. "the entire pile was on fire," according to the report.

The mass of burning tires created a huge plume of black smoke, which could be seen more than 30 kilometres away in Montreal.

Plume of black smoke on horizon with a bridge and river in foreground
The smoke from the fire at the St-Amable, Que., tire dump could be seen from Montreal. (The National/CBC Archives)

By the time The National aired that night, the light in the sky was gone, but Workman said the red glow of the fire could be seen from where he was watching a kilometre away.

At that point, no one had been evacuated from the area, though Workman said the people who lived nearby weren't happy with what had occurred.

"I can tell you the townspeople are very worried, they're calling this a disaster," he said. "They say they've been watching this pile grow bigger for the last 30 years and feel that the government hasn't moved to protect them."

Another day, another day of burning tires

Day 3 of the St-Amable, Que., tire fire

33 years ago
Duration 0:31
Three days in and the tire fire was still burning in St-Amable, Que.

Two days later, The National was still keeping an eye on the tire fire, which wasn't improving.

"The dumpsite is still burning fiercely, but firefighters have kept it from spreading by building a sand firewall around it," anchor Knowlton Nash told viewers.

"This morning, smoke began to drift toward some of the houses in the town and more than 20 people packed up and left."

The even-worse tire fire

Fire breaks out in Hagersville, Ont.

33 years ago
Duration 0:51
The National reports that a fire has broken out in Hagersville, Ont.

By May of 1990, The National's viewers were accustomed to hearing about tire fires and their aftermath, as an even larger tire fire in Hagersville, Ont., had been covered extensively by the program since it occurred three months earlier.

The Hagersville fire was so well-known in fact, that when The National covered the St-Amable fire, Peter Mansbridge first said "it has happened again, another huge tire dump is on fire, burning out of control" — and he didn't even name Hagersville, as he didn't need to.

Firefighters battle a tire fire
Firefighters are seen battling the tire fire in Hagersville, Ont., on Feb. 21, 1990, more than a week after it first started. (Bill Becker/Canadian Press)

And before the year was over, there was still more burning tire coverage to come from CBC News.

A fire at a tire recycling centre in Kingsville, Ont., was covered closely by CBC Windsor that July, while CBC Toronto covered a tire fire at a scrap yard in Stouffville, Ont., that August.

In October, CBC Toronto was reporting on how Hagersville was dealing with the tires left over after the fire.

The leftover tires in Hagersville

33 years ago
Duration 2:03
In October 1990, CBC Toronto reports on what will be done with the leftover tires in Hagersville, Ont.

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