Nova Scotia

Cape Breton scrapyard fire now considered suspicious

It took upwards of 60 firefighters hours to put out the blaze, which is now considered suspicious.

'Bumpers can fly off the vehicle because they're charged and under that pressure'

Metal and gas tanks can be seen catching fire as the scrapyard burns Tuesday evening. (Patrick Doyle)

A police investigation is underway into a fearsome fire at an auto salvage yard last night in the Point Edward area, near Sydney, according to Cape Breton Regional Police.

Police have determined the fire is suspicious in origin. The fire marshal is at the scene with members of the police forensic identification unit.

Coxheath Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill MacLeod, who was the first responder and incident commander, says the fire was centred in a pile of as many as 500 cars stacked on top of one another.

Hunt for ignition sources

Firefighters were able to gain control of it by using heavy equipment to tear the burning cars away from the pile.

MacLeod says investigators will focus on a couple of areas: whether there was any grass burning in the area before the cars caught fire and whether batteries were connected to any vehicles, which could have acted as an ignition source.

Chris March with the Cape Breton Regional Fire Service said very few cars escaped the fire unscathed. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Firefighters combating the fire had to deal with a series of small explosions. 

"If there's any trace amounts of fuel left, that can cause a small explosion too," said the municipality's deputy fire chief, Chris March. 

"You have to be aware of that because bumpers can fly off the vehicle because they're charged and under that pressure. So you have to approach the vehicles at a certain angle."

March said no one was injured in the blaze.  

'You don't like to be exposed to that stuff'

In the early minutes of the fire, just after 7 p.m., only about 60 cars were burning. But that was enough to create a plume of black smoke visible for kilometres.

"It's the interior of the car that's burning and there's a lot of plastic in a car. If there's any tires remaining on the vehicle, they'd be burning as well," said March.

He said firefighters wore breathing apparatus but still had to contend with potentially toxic smoke. 

"You don't like to be exposed to that stuff. Just trying to get close enough to the fire so that the water's going to be functional and do it's job to put the fire out is a challenge."   

So far there have been no reports of respiratory problems from the smoke, said March. 

Excavator used to move burning cars

An excavator was brought to start moving burning cars to better get at the blaze. March said many of the cars were stacked four high.

"When they're piled like that, the fire is in underneath and it's hard to get at so they pull the pile apart essentially. [That way] we can get water on the cars and extinguish the fire."

The morning after as many as 500 cars burned. (George Mortimer/CBC)

There are no fire hydrants in the immediate area of the salvage yard, so pumper trucks had to leave the scene repeatedly to take water from a hydrant on nearby Keltic Drive.

March said crews from nine volunteer fire departments, involving 60 firefighters, had the fire pretty much under control by 11 p.m. Tuesday. 

With files from George Mortimer and Information Morning Cape Breton