New Brunswick

Large fire and explosions damage American Iron and Metal plant in Saint John

After months of quiet operation by Saint John Harbour, American Iron and Metal has roared back into the spotlight with a large fire and a series of explosions.

Fire department says fire likely started from friction during processing of 'fluff'

Saint John firefighters attacked the fire from multiple areas, said platoon chief Barry Oickle. (Juanita Lynn Mackenzie/Facebook)

After many months of quiet operation by Saint John Harbour, American Iron and Metal has roared back into the spotlight with a large fire and a series of explosions.

"We've seen a lot of events related to this operation, but last night was quite spectacular," Bob McVicar, whose home is directly across the harbour from the west side scrap metal operation, said Friday.

There were no injuries.

The fire department was called to the scene around 10:30 p.m Thursday, said platoon chief Barry Oickle.

When firefighters got there, he said, explosions were going off and there was a large volume of fire.

"It covered quite a bit of an area," said Oickle.

The fire started in a building where cars are stripped of so-called fluff, non metal material found in automobile interiors that is removed before the metal is recycled.

"Part of that process of separating is they shred material, which they call fluff. And that fluff — through the friction, you know, the process — sometimes can be heated. ... It appears that the fire started there."

Employees safe

Oickle said employees had safely left the building before firefighters arrived.

McVicar, was able to watch the fire from his bed. He said there was a huge billow of smoke above the scene.

"Thank god last night the wind was uncharacteristically from the northwest, and therefore the smoke got blown out into the bay. But if it had been a normal wind last night, our neighbourhood would have had a serious problem with air quality."

Central Peninsula resident Bob McVicar woke at the sound of an explosion across the harbour at Atlantic Iron and Metal. (Graham Thompson, CBC)

Saint John Mayor Don Darling went to Twitter this morning to suggest a bill should be sent to the company to cover the cost of fighting the fire. 

Speaking to CBC News afterward, he said he is frustrated with AIM.

"It has a huge impact on the community closest and certainly on both sides of the harbour," said Darling. "We have yet again another explosion, we have an owner who is very difficult to work with, but yet our fire services and police services have to respond."

The AIM yard has had dozens of explosions before, which many residents have complained about.

The company explained a blast last year as a burst of pressure following the shredding of some material.

Thursday night's explosions were different, said Oickle.

"Some of the explosions were from cylinders that were still around in the area at the time."

It took about two hours to get the fire under control, said the platoon chief.

Part of the building and a conveyor belt system were damaged, he said, and a large amount of separated material was burned.

There was a 'significant' amount of damage dollar-wise, he said.

AIM workers helped use heavy equipment to separate the burned material, said Oickle.

Staff from the port and the provincial Environment Department were also on hand, he said.

The AIM recycling yard has drawn the ire of some people who live on Saint John's lower west side and central peninsula for a few years now, because of noise, dust and pollution.

The wind Thursday night was favourable, said Oickle. It carried the smoke out over the water.

Company owner Herbert Black could not be reached Friday. A spokesperson at AIM's Montreal headquarters said the company would issue a statement soon.

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