June 4, 2019 2:22 pm
Updated: June 4, 2019 8:59 pm

Highrise fire in Vancouver’s West End caused by improperly stored linseed oil rags

WATCH: Oily rags caused near-disastrous Vancouver fire


Fire officials say Sunday’s three-alarm fire in Vancouver’s West End was caused by improperly stored linseed oil rags.

The fire burned in a 15th-floor suite of the 23-storey concrete Pacific Surf apartments at 1275 Pacific St. on Sunday afternoon.

Capt. Jonathan Gormick with Vancouver Fire Rescue Services said investigators concluded the fire was caused by linseed oil rags  that “were not stored in a non-combustible container.”

WATCH: Crews douse 3-alarm fire at apartment in Vancouver’s West End

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Assistant Chief Ray Bryant said linseed oil, which is used for staining furniture, has a “self-heating property” and rags covered in the natural oil need to be stored in a proper container.

“In this case, they were rolled up in a ball,” he said. “When you do that with a self-heating oil…it can’t release the heat that’s generated as the product starts to dry.

“If you roll it up in a ball and put it in a Ziploc bag, which a lot of people think will keep the oxygen out of it, it creates heat within the bag…it will continue to self-generate heat within that ball that you’ve rolled that rag up into.

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“You’ll get temperatures of 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit within that rag at which time it will start to ignite, and that’s what happened in this case.”

Bryant said the rags were stored on the balcony, which ignited some cardboard that was placed against a window. The glass shattered and the fire entered the suite.

The fact that it was a hot day and the rags were facing the sun helped accelerate the blaze, Bryant said, but the oils would have heated up naturally on their own.

Bryant said the easiest way to store linseed oil rags is to lay them flat on a non-flammable surface so they will dry naturally and become hard. Once they are hard and fully dried, they can be safely placed in the garbage. If you wish to re-use the rags, they should be stored in a metal container with a lid. They can also be stored in a bucket of water.

Vancouver Fire says it has dealt with 39 instances of self-heating materials since 2016.

Gormick said fire damage was limited to the suite where it began, but several suites on the 15th and 16th floors suffered smoke damage, leaving 10 residents displaced. There were no injuries.

— With files from Simon Little

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