Fire causes $1.5M damage at Winnipeg business

A stubborn fire in Winnipeg's Point Douglas neighbourhood raged for more than 12 hours after igniting Wednesday night.

A stubborn fire in Winnipeg's Point Douglas neighbourhood raged for more than 12 hours after igniting Wednesday night.

It started just after 9 p.m. CT on Wednesday at Gateway Industries and kept burning through the night, sending heavy smoke, ashes and sparks across the area.

It was finally extinguished at about 10 a.m. Thursday but crews intended to stay at the industrial plant for the day, watching for any smouldering hot spots.

A cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

"It looks like a bomb went off. There's a couple of buildings still standing but we probably lost 10 to 15 buildings back here," fire chief Bruce Duncan said, adding some 75-pound propane tanks on the property exploded.

No one was hurt but emergency crews evacuated about 15 homes as a precaution. They weren't endangered by the flames but were in the smoke zone, Duncan told CBC News early Thursday morning.

"I've been to many fires but this is one of the biggest I've been at," he said.

Up to 100 firefighters battled the blaze, which caused an estimated $1.5 million in damages on the 17-acre lot.

Environmental concerns

Concerns about the Gateway Industries fire have become environmental.

Deputy fire chief Ken Sim said water runoff may have been contaminated by petroleum or other chemicals in the plant.

Residents of the homes that have been evacuated won't be allowed back until an environmental assessment determines it is safe.

'Nightmare' for firefighters

The property at 2 Point Douglas Ave. has been "a nightmare" for firefighters for years, Duncan said.

"This is probably the 10th time I've been here for a major fire over the years," he noted.

Since 2000, Winnipeg fire crews have responded to 10 major fires and five minor fires at the same address.

The major fires date back to 2002, while the minor fires — incidents that could be handled by just one or two crews — were reported between 2003 and this past May.

Altogether, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service has responded to that address 111 times, mostly to address alarm system problems, a city official told CBC News.

Crews have also responded to three medical calls at the address, according to the official.

"This gentleman's store is all kinds of mish-mash of material back here. It's pretty well indescribable," Duncan said."

"He's got huge rolls of recycled paper; there's barrels of asphalt, there's 45-gallon drums of oil, you name it, it's here [and] it's all burning."

Owner won't rebuild

Company owner Sheldon Blank said about 10 employees work at the business, which manufactures soap and cleaning compounds as well as pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.

The property also once housed a recycling facility but that part of the business has not been in operation for a few years, Blank said.

Much of the materials, however, remained on the site.

"I have no insurance. I don’t know what I’m going to do," Blank said, noting that his business was considered too high-risk for insurers.

"I'm sure we're not going to rebuild," he added, saying he will see how much equipment he can try to salvage and possible sell.

Several roads in the area that were closed to traffic for many hours were reopened at about 11 a.m. on Thursday.