Massive fire breaks out, explosions heard at recycling facility in Saint John, N.B.

Click to play video: 'Massive fire breaks out at AIM facility in Saint John'
Massive fire breaks out at AIM facility in Saint John
WATCH: A large fire has broken out at American Iron and Metal in Saint John. The fire started around 1 a.m. and crews continue to battle what the fire chief says is a deep rooted industrial fire. Nathalie Sturgeon reports. – Sep 14, 2023

Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford says crews are making progress on a fire that was reported around 1 a.m. Thursday at the American Iron and Metal (AIM) facility in the Port of Saint John.

He said it is too early to say how the fire started, but it was burning in a pile of crushed cars and was likely going on for hours before smoke became noticeable.

It was reported as an outside fire, Clifford explained, which means someone spotted flames or smoke and called it in.

The City of Saint John and the New Brunswick Public Health have issued a shelter-in-place advisory for all of Saint John.

“We believe the shelter-in-place strategy is the best,” Clifford said. “We need to get an understanding of the impact.”

Dr. Rita Gad, the acting medical officer of health for the Saint John region, said the plume and smoke is likely filled with chemicals and contaminants.

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She advised anyone who sees or smells smoke to stay indoors, shut the windows, and turn of HVAC systems.

“Follow the advice of local authorities,” she said.

Clifford said the fire is 300-metres wide and 25 to 30-feet high and continues to burn, adding it could be tomorrow before it is considered contained.

“I feel at this point we’re beginning to make progress and probably up to an hour ago I didn’t have that sense, so I think we are beginning to make progress,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Massive fire breaks out, explosions heard at recycling facility in Saint John, N.B.'
Massive fire breaks out, explosions heard at recycling facility in Saint John, N.B.

The uptown remains covered in a white haze and the smoke remains heavy as of Thursday evening.

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He said about 35 firefighters from Saint John have been on scene, with one shift rotation. There was additional support from Irving Oil, Atlantic Towing, Kennebecasis Valley Fire Department, and the Port of Saint John.

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“Soon as our crew got there, they asked for help,” he said. “They treated it is as what they call a structure fire recognizing the need to have certain volumes of water, and you need to make tactical decisions which would required a coordinate incident action point.”

Clifford said it is working quickly to avoid the fire interacting with incoming Hurricane Lee, which is forecasted to have a heavy impact on the region.

Residents in the area watched as the fire burned metres from homes and neighbourhoods in the west side of the city.

Gray Kingsley said he’s become climatized to the explosions the American Iron and Metal facility has had in the past.

“It seems pretty big, and I know they keep seeming to have issues with this place. I’m fully supportive of recycling but this is pretty close to a lot of homes,” he said on Thursday.

Another resident, Andrew Miller, said the fact the fire burned for so long is worrisome.

“I understand that they have a business to run but it just seems to be a pretty risky thing when you look at this. I don’t think this should be in any proximity to residential areas, it just seems ridiculous,” he said.

The New Brunswick Lung Association is warning people with certain health conditions to be careful during this fire.

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“We know that smoke is dangerous to lung health. particularly if you are elderly, very young and anyone that is living with cardiovascular or lung issues, this is a very concerning event,” said Melanie Langille, with the association.

She also encouraged residents to shut windows and limit exposure while the fire is burning, and while the plume and smoke remain present.

“I think the best people can do right now is keep an eye on air quality health index, which is available through the Weather Can and Weather Network app, and that will tell you what the air quality is in the Saint John area right now.”

Global News reached out American Iron and Metal and has yet to hear back.

Transport Canada monitoring

Port Saint John, which owns the land where the facility is located, said on social media that it was notified about the fire around 1:45 a.m.

The port said its emergency response plan has been activated.

“Our main priority at this time is the safety of everyone involved,” they said earlier Thursday.

“We do not have any further details to release at this time. We will continue to keep the community informed as more facts of the incident are confirmed.”

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Transport Canada said in a social media post that it is aware of the fire and is “closely monitoring the situation.”

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement, saying “An industrial fire on the Saint John waterfront is causing significant concentrations of smoke and reduced air quality in the vicinity of the fire as well as along the waterfront in the downtown area.”

“Individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk,” it said.

“If you are experiencing symptoms, such as coughing or throat irritation, consider reducing or rescheduling strenuous outdoor activities until the special air quality statement is lifted. Exposure to air pollution is particularly a health concern for people with heart or breathing problems, those with diabetes, children and the elderly.”

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