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A fire at an asphalt plant sent a towering cloud of black smoke over south Oshawa and the harbour area over the weekend.
The incident forced residents in the proximity inside and caused evacuations of businesses located downwind.
And even as port officials rushed to reassure the public about safety protocols, local activists resumed stoking fears a planned ethanol plant in the vicinity would increase the chances of another industrial mishap taking place.
Chief Fire Prevention Officer Susan King says Oshawa Fire Services received a call at 5:09 a.m. Saturday, January 19 when a fire broke out at the McAsphalt warehouse on Farewell Street.
Emergency crews arrived to the scene and began combating the blaze. Police cordoned off neighbourhoods around the harbour.
No injuries were reported, but the material contained in the warehouse ignited and sent an enormous cloud of smoke up and eastwards over the harbour and surrounding area.
Businesses like Minacs and the General Motors headquarters on Colonel Sam Drive were evacuated until 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening. Durham Regional Police say residents in the area were asked to keep their windows closed and to stay indoors.
“That area was in direct line of the smoke,” explains King. “No amount of smoke is good for you.”
Approximately 30 to 35 firefighters were brought in to deal with the blaze, from both Oshawa and Clarington fire services. The warehouse was completely destroyed.
A cause has yet to be determined, but Oshawa Fire Services met with the Ontario Fire Marshal earlier in the week to begin the investigation. The cost of the fire remains unknown at this time.
Ministry of Environment officials were present and reported no problems with air quality or drinking water, says Kate Jordan, a spokesperson for the ministry. A clean-up company was hired by McAsphalt, she says, and placed a protective “boom” cover at the harbour.
“It’s a containment measure, essentially an absorbent pad put on the surface water,” states Jordan. “We didn’t see any readings of concern.”
Ministry of Environment officials remained on the scene Monday as firefighters continued to monitor hot spots in the warehouse.
McAsphalt Industries Limited says it is working with the fire marshal to determine the cause, reviewing video footage from the facility’s camera to do so. The company claims an “all encompassing plan” is underway for clean-up and a return to operations at the warehouse.
John Carrick, president of McAsphalt Industries Limited, thanked the emergency responders for their assistance.
“The response team did an excellent job of identifying the immediate risks, human and environmental, and quickly engaging the emergency services required. While the warehouse was completely destroyed as well as its contents, the fire was contained to the immediate area and further damage avoided,” says Carrick. “We would also like to thank the residents of Oshawa and the surrounding area for their patience, as we know many were concerned and inconvenienced.”
The fire was the second incident in as many months to occur at the port. A chemical spill in December sent 640,000 litres of 33 per cent magnesium chloride into the harbour.
Friends of Oshawa’s Waterfront, an activist group opposed to an ethanol plant by the waterfront, used the fire to fuel debate about the harbour’s operations.
“This is further proof that accidents can and will happen, and it is precisely why we cannot allow further heavy industrialization at the harbour, so close to homes, businesses and the Second Marsh,” says Michael Maynard, a spokesperson for the group. “The risk to our community is just too great.”
Friends of Second Marsh also tied the fire to arguments against an ethanol plant planned on the port lands. The project received approval in August 2012 with construction to begin in the near future.
“This carries serious implications for a proposed ethanol refinery on our waterfront,” warns Maynard. “Ethanol is a highly flammable and volatile substance. We watched fire crews battle this blaze all day, with some major flare ups clearly visible from Lakeview Park. Adding an ethanol refinery into the mix could lead to a major catastrophe. How can FarmTech and the Port Authority guarantee the health and safety of residents should an accident occur at or near their planned ethanol refinery?”
The Oshawa Port Authority said the warehouse was located off port authority property and contained dry bulk products. It also stated safety procedures were followed throughout the emergency.
“Oshawa firefighters did a tremendous job,” says Donna Taylor, CEO of the Oshawa Port Authority, whom a release states was on site. “We’re also pleased with the speed in which McAsphalt officials responded, with sound internal protocols and a Fire Safety Contingency Plan.”
“The Port Authority will be working with McAsphalt, fire officials, and all agencies including the Ontario Ministry of Environment in its air quality, fire suppression water analysis, and site cleanup,” Taylor adds.
Mayor John Henry had praise for the efforts of the emergency responders as well. He also noted the City planned on looking into the happenings at the port.
"We had unbelievable co-operation of DRPS, Clarington Fire and OPG," he says. "We're going to take this and really look at the exercise. We were well prepared and nobody was hurt."
oshawaexpress.com | Tags: plant fire, manufacturing plant fire, plant fire protection