Tyee and Michele Bridge said they could only imagine what chemicals went into the air and the water following Tuesday’s (Oct. 9) barge fire at Schnitzer Steel — the second barge fire in two months.
Michele said she was on a run Tuesday evening when she saw the “huge plume of black smoke.” She said she could see that the fire was coming from the same area as where another barge fire occurred in August.
“During my run, I increasingly couldn’t breathe. I had to stop to catch my breath which I never have to do,” said Michele, adding that by the end of her run, the fire had increased “by four or five times the size.”
“The sky was just covered in black toxic smoke and my throat was just burning,” she said.
Surrey assistant fire chief Chris Keon told the Now-Leader that Tuesday’s barge fire was at the same location as the barge fire in early August. Keon said the Surrey fire department was called to the fire at the Schnitzer Steel barge at 4:40 p.m. on Tuesday (Oct. 9) which was where crews tackled a blaze in early August.
Surrey fire crews, Keon said, wrapped up around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and the fire “was left in the hands of the port authority at that time.” Keon added that the fire department was directing any calls about the fire to the Port of Vancouver.
The Now-Leader has contacted the port authority for comment.
Keon said it was a second-alarm fire at the start, but was then downgraded to a first-alarm fire. He added that a Vancouver fireboat responded as well.
“We (the Surrey Fire Department) applied water from the dock, and they applied water from the water (side),” Keon said.
In an emailed statement from Schnitzer Steel Canada, it reads that the barge was “comprised of crushed auto bodies that had been drained of fluids and properly processed for end of life, and assorted light iron such as washers and dryers.”
The cause of the fire, according to the release, is unknown at this time.
— Fred the Alien (@fredthealien316) October 10, 2018
“We are co-operating and working with all applicable agencies, including the environmental agencies. In addition, Schnitzer is reviewing yesterday’s events in an effort to determine the cause of the fire and will make any necessary adjustments to policies or procedures to reduce risk in the future as needed.”
The release added that the cause of the August fire was determined “inconclusive after an investigation by Schnitzer Steel in conjunction with appropriate regulatory bodies.”
Tyee said he has also sent a message to the City of Surrey, expressing his “extreme displeasure and hoped that they would be acting in a way to ensure that public safety is protected as well as the ecological quality of the river over there.”
Michele said with “this pile of toxic, fuel-laden metal cars that are just burning,” she could “only imagine what kind of chemicals are creeping into the air.”
— Stephen C (@theday) October 10, 2018
Tyee, who wasn’t in town for Tuesday’s fire, said he still remembers the August fire.
“When I was there for the first fire, it was pretty scary. We’re not far away at all. We’re right across the river and smoke was just absolutely pouring over across the river towards where we live,” Tyee said.
“At that time in August, we weren’t in the plume, but my wife seemed to indicate she was yesterday.”
Tyee, who has done some advocacy work for salmon and worked for Fraser RiverKeeper, said these barge fires are a human concern and an environmental concern.
“I hope that the city and all other agencies… are cracking down and telling the company they cannot do business until and unless they can guarantee these kinds of events are not going to happen,” Tyee said.