April 17, 2015 10:09 am
Updated: August 6, 2016 2:16 pm

Large fire at Squamish Terminals 90 per cent contained

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LIVE WATCH: Live shot of the fire at the docks in Squamish

  • Air quality in the region has improved and the Shelter-in-Place alert has been lifted
  • It still may change throughout the day
  • All schools will be open. Students will be kept indoors all day, and the School District will update throughout the day as necessary.
  • Fire engulfed the docks at Squamish Terminals, causing massive damage to the ports
  • As of midnight, the fire is 90 per cent contained 
  • All ships appear to have escaped without serious damage, but the cause is still unknown
  • Noxious fumes, believed to be creosote pilings, are being smelled through Squamish
  • Everyone who was working on site is accounted for
  • No work is expected to be done at the docks this morning for safety reasons 

Fire crews are still on the scene after a fire at Squamish Terminals caused massive damage to the docks and created noxious smoke that could be seen and smelled throughout the region on Thursday evening.

It started just before 6:30 p.m. next to or on a Star Atlantic Timber Carrier, but quickly spread throughout the docks.

A coast guard hovercraft and inshore rescue boat were on scene along with local fire and police crews. Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman advised residents to stay indoors to avoid the smoke. That order has now been lifted.

“Our suspicion is that there’s creosote pilings on fire, so you’re getting quite a noxious smell. We’re really asking people to shelter in place, stay indoors. There’s no evacuation in place, but we really want people to be smart and healthy,” said Heintzman Thursday night.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue sent fireboats to help, and by 10 p.m. they were able to turn the tide on the fire, which had been difficult for land-based crews to aggressively fight.

The city says efforts will move to extinguishing the fire underneath the dock once the morning’s high tide recedes.

WATCH: Locals capture cellphone video of Squamish fire:

The city is awaiting confirmation from Vancouver Coastal Health on the toxicity levels of the smoke, but officials asked residents to stay indoors, close all doors and windows, and shut down their furnace, air conditioners, exhaust fans and vents Thursday night. That Shelter-in-Place has now been lifted.

Anyone who experiences difficulty breathing and was exposed to the smoke is urged to seek medical attention immediately.

The public can view the current air quality readings, which are being updated on the hour, at bcairquality.ca.

“There was a cloud of white smoke. It just kept smoking and smoking and building and building,” says Rose Mary-Jane Hunter, who was on Nexen beach across from the docks when the fire began.

She said it appeared that the fire started on the ship and spread to the dock, but the exact source of the fire is still unknown.

“It smelt terrible. We were driving back and we couldn’t breathe. You had to put your head in your hand and in your coat,” she said.

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Smoke is flooding the whole town.

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The fire quickly spread, and by 8 p.m. it spanned hundreds of feet on the dock, with crews of various ships frantically trying to get their vessels away before they were affected.

Kim Stegeman, Vice President, Administration for Squamish Terminals, said that there were up to 60 employees at the terminal at the time, but all were evacuated safely.

“There was a ship at the dock but it did not catch fire,” she said. “It is safe and away from danger.

“#squamish dock fire. Photo by my husband from Chief off ramp,” tweeted one person who watched the Squamish Terminals fire as night fell.

Twitter/@couragesings

International shipping expert Joe Spears says there are several variables that crews will need to deal with in days ahead.

“We’ve got human health issues, a lot of things happening all in real time. Real time is messy,” he said.

“That creosote burning at that high temperature is going to be releasing all kinds of chemicals into the air. That rail link is a major important link for most of the timber and logs coming out of northern B.C. It’s going to have a lot of impact.”

As night fell, people throughout Squamish prepared for the possibility that the smell would be a significant issue for some time to come.

“It’s the smell of burning chemicals. It was quite nauseating actually,” says David Thomson, who works at the local White Spot.

“It really was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen here, and I’ve lived here all my life.”

Squamish’s economy has always relied on both industry stemming from the port and environmental tourism. As debate in town rages about over a proposed LNG plant in town, Heintzman says she isn’t worried about the future of the terminal itself.

“This facility’s got a great track record. We don’t want to jump to any conclusions before we know what happened,” he said.

“It’s not for me to speculate. Experts are going to do their analysis, but ultimately the port is an important part of our economy here, it employs a lot of people, it’s important to us here. So we want to the make sure that the environment is safe and protected, but we want to make sure that workers are safe and this very important piece of our economic driver is doing well.”

At the dock, an ever-increasing number of emergency personnel continued to battle the fire well into the night and prepare for the extensive recovery ahead. It is unknown when workers at the terminal would return to work.

“Go home, it’s all gone,” said an RCMP officer wearing a mask to a dock worker.

“No work today.”

Related Video: Reporter Linda Aylesworth spoke to the Squamish Streamkeepers Society in 2007 about the creosote pilings and their impact on the environment in Howe Sound

– With files from John Daly, Aaron McArthur and The Canadian Press

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