It could be a couple of days before the fire that’s destroyed part of Pier Park is fully extinguished.
Mayor Jonathan Cote visited the site on Monday morning, where firefighters continue to work to contain the blaze. He said the part of the park that’s built on the old pier structure has been destroyed, but the section that was rebuilt when the park was built survived the fire.
“The new structure is going to be completely saved and will have minimal impacts, but it’s the older wooden structure that is not going to be salvageable,” he said. “The part with the urban beach and the volleyball court and the big W, that is the part of the park that is not going to survive.”
Cote said the fire is now fully contained to the old pier structure, and it doesn’t appear it will spread any further. He said the short-term goal is to extinguish the fire and protect the river from any environmental damage.
“They are not going to be able to fully put out the fire until they actually start to remove the top of the pier deck, which they are hoping to be able to get started today,” he said.
The area where the deck needs to be removed in order to extinguish the fire is where the Wow New Westminster public art piece stands.
“The W will need to come down,” Cote said. “We are still working to see what can be done to salvage the public art piece. It’s too early to tell what the next steps with the W will be but where the W is standing right now is not going to survive.”
When Cote toured the site Monday morning, fire crews were surrounding and containing the fire, which will continue until the deck is removed and they’re able to put it out.
“There’s still fire smoldering underneath the old pier deck. It’s not as dramatic as what the sights were last night with the blazing fire. The new part of the Pier Park looks relatively unaffected. It doesn’t look too much different than it did before. That was a real positive to see that the new part of the park does not seem to be affected at all,” he said. “The festival lawn is still there. The grass is green on the festival lawn. That part of the park and the concession stand and playground, all that part of the park looks like it is definitely going to be saved.”
The fire in Westminster Pier Park was reported about 8 p.m. on Sunday night. No one was injured in the blaze, which appears to have started on the eastern side of the park.
“At this time we don’t know what the cause of the fire is,” Cote said. “It does look like it started on the end of Pier Park near where the W is, on that end of the park and then moved down the river.”
Cote said the city is thankful to New Westminster firefighters for their hard work in dealing with the “unique” fire.
“We are really appreciative and thankful to the hard work of the New West fire department, who worked really hard all night to keep the fire contained,” he said. “We also had the assistance of – my understanding it was four – fire departments in the region, including the fire boat from the Vancouver Fire Department to assist with the fire. We are really thankful for the neighbouring communities to help support us with this really unique and difficult fire.”
As darkness and smoke filled the sky on Sunday night, it was difficult for bystanders to see how far the fire was spreading in Westminster Pier Park.
“I think the big fear last night was that the fire would keep spreading to the entire park, which I think would have been really devastating. It’s definitely heartbreaking to see any part of the park affected. It really has become a special place in the community. Even the parts of the old beach with the beach and the W are places we really connected with,” Cote said. “It’s still a very sad day in the City of New Westminster.”
Westminster Pier Park, a $25.2-milllion, 600-metre-long linear park, opened on New Westminster’s waterfront in June 2012. The popular destination includes playgrounds, a sports court, a "festival lawn" gathering area, a concession, walking paths, beach volleyball courts and more.
“When Pier Park was originally built, we felt that the structure, I recall, had about 20 to 25 years of life left in it, but in the longer term it would need to be rebuilt,” Cote said. “Obviously this fire has sped up the need to look at that. In the longer term, the city was envisioning over a 20-year period having to replace that deck.”
Once the fire is extinguished, Pier Park will be closed while cleanup and environmental mitigation take place.
“It does appear that the new part of the park is going to be relatively unharmed by this fire,” Cote said. “That part of the park I would expect to reopen when it’s safe to do so.”
Like other community members, Cote said he felt a sense of shock and sadness when viewing images of the fire at Pier Park.
“New Westminster is an older community. We have faced our adversity over the years. But we are a strong community,” he said. “Thankfully, no one was injured in this fire and we will be able to rebuild.”