Questions loom about barge fire on Fraser River

Many New West residents watched as plumes of black smoke billowed from a barge on the Fraser River on Tuesday night for the second time in two months.

Fire broke out on a barge at Schnitzer Metal Recyclers in Surrey on Tuesday about 5 p.m. A fire at the same location spewed smoke into the air on Aug. 10, causing Metro Vancouver to issue an air quality warning as a result of "sporadic elevated levels of fine particulate matter" being measured at air quality monitoring stations.

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“Last time was so bad,” tweeted New West resident Kailie Crosby. “Definitely lucky to not be getting too much smoke.”

While Metro Vancouver did not issue air quality warnings in response to the latest fire, a spokesperson with the Surrey Fire Department said the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority harbour master was checking water quality in the river. In August, some local residents expressed concern about potential impacts on water quality resulting from pouring water onto burning metal for hours and the resulting run-off into fish-bearing waters.

On Tuesday, a fireboat from Vancouver was called in to help knock down the flames aboard the barge located just east of the Pattullo Bridge. Firefighters had to remove two backhoes from the barge, as well as upper levels of the load, to douse flames on the barge.

As fire crews were responding, some expressed concern and frustration on Twitter about the fire.

“I hope for everyone’s sake they have their operating permit revoked,” said New West resident Matt Lorenzi on Twitter @stickers66. “Once is one thing. This is bush league.”

“Also, where are the water cannons? Or is this just allowed to burn down.”

Schnitzer Steel, an international metal recycling and steel manufacturer based in Portland, Oregon, leases the Surrey waterfront site from the Port of Vancouver.

“The barge load 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 is unknown at this time. We are cooperating and working with all applicable agencies, including the environmental agencies,” said the company in a statement to the Record. “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. Safety of our operations at Surrey, including fire prevention and emergency response, are a top priority. There were no injuries as a result of this incident, and we are thankful for the prompt and effective action by all first responders.”

According to the statement from Schnitzer, the cause of the August incident was determined to be "inconclusive" after an investigation by Schnitzer Steel in conjunction with appropriate regulatory bodies.

In August, firefighters remained on-scene for more than 24 hours after fire broke out on the 76-metre barge containing flattened cars and assorted light iron products such as washers and dryers.

Danielle Jang, media relations and government affairs advisor for the Port of Vancouver, told the Record in August that the port authority will be discussing the incident and the procedures that took place with key stakeholders in the coming weeks to determine any action that may be required. In regards to emergency plans, she said tenants are required to carry out regular safety inspections and are required to observe all applicable rules, regulations and directions of building inspectors, health, fire and other municipal officers and regulatory agencies.

Calls to the Port of Vancouver were not returned by the Record’s deadline.



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