Spread of fire at scrapyard near Nanaimo airport contained

WatchThe Cowichan Valley Regional District says as of Thursday evening, the spread of the fire at the steel recycling yard south of Nanaimo has been contained.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District says as of Thursday evening, the spread of the fire at the steel recycling yard south of Nanaimo has been contained.

However, groundwater contamination remains a threat to surrounding properties. Residents of North Oyster, Cedar and the Town of Ladysmith are asked to avoid water use as emergency crews draw on reservoirs to fight the fire.

According to the district, approximately 50 firefighters from over eight departments remain on scene battling the fire on the property of Schnitzer Steel Canada.

Fire crews are still gaining control of the fire that is being fueled by contaminated material, including a tire pile that continues to burn down. The threat of fire exposure to adjacent properties and structures is lessening as wind speed and direction have improved favourably since the fire began, the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) says.

Groundwater contamination as a result of firefighting efforts remains a significant concern, according to the district.

Representatives from the BC Ministry of Environment are on scene.

Island Health and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations groundwater monitoring department are also on scene. Air quality is still a concern given the contaminated material ablaze, and the public is advised to avoid the area if at all possible.

The North Oyster Volunteer Fire Department said that they arrived on the scene shortly after 9 a.m. after receiving reports of the yard fire.

After nearly five hours of battling the blaze, North Oyster Fire Chief Florian Schulz described the fire is “burning out of control.”

Schulz points to the objects that are fuelling the fire as being the biggest difficulty at containing the blaze.

“It’s a massive pile of recyclables, car parts, plastics, and foams,” Schulz told CHEK News.

The location of the fire has proven to cause some difficulty for firefighters as there are no fire hydrants in the area. Fire crews have created a convoy, filling up nearby and trucking water into the yard.

“We have about 15 trucks filling up with water right now, so we are someone keeping up, but the fuel load is just massive.”

Operations had been running at Schnitzer Steel earlier this morning, however, staff have since evacuated the property as a result of the flames. Schulz is estimating that there are at least a dozen departments are assisting with the fire, utilizing over 20 trucks.

“The fire is projected to spread to neighbouring private property, and evacuations of the immediate area are imminent,” the CVRD said Thursday afternoon.

A neighbouring business, Cold Star Freight Systems, already evacuated this morning out of precaution.

The fire has spread to trees located beside the blaze and a thick cloud of smoke is billowing into the sky and can be seen for kilometres.

One witness on the scene told CHEK News that the smoke could be seen from Duncan, while another claimed that you could see the thick smoke clouds from the fire all the way up in Courtenay.

The fire can also be seen in the background of one of the webcams located at the Nanaimo Flying Club.

Two members of B.C.’s Environmental Emergency Program have also responded to the call. A helicopter is doing water drops on the fire.

Schulz said that the helicopter was being used in support of BC Wildfire Services to protect the tree line nearby.

Dave Pridham, a response officer with the Environmental Emergency Program said they are in the area to monitor the situation, while working directly with the responsible party. Any potential health concerns regarding air quality are being directed to Island Health and First Nations Health Authority, according to Pridham.

Groundwater contamination as a result of the fire is a significant concern, the CVRD says, and highly likely based on current assessments from crews on the ground.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) has activated its Emergency Operations Centre at Level 1, and staff from the Emergency Management division is coordinating the response and liaising with partner agencies. Further updates will be posted to the CVRD website at
www.cvrd.bc.ca as they become available.

Drive BC has advised drivers that the northbound right lane of Highway 1 is blocked in the area due to the fire.

This is a developing story and will be updated once more information is learned.

Graham CoxGraham Cox
Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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