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Chemical fire at Port Metro Vancouver

Last Updated Dec 3, 2015 at 9:09 am PST

(NEWS 1130 File Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – A four-alarm fire at Port Metro Vancouver required a massive response across the city.

Vancouver Fire says the fire originated inside a single container from China. Assistant Chief Ron Coulson says the chemical inside is an oxidizer which causes things around it to combust.
He also says it was hard to put out because the container is stuck underneath others.

“One of the large containers that were buried deep within a large stack was actually involved with fire and they did a size up and determined that it was difficult to access…basically six in and two high on each side so it’s been very difficult for us to get access into the container itself. They got support from the Port and the long shore men on site to determine what was in that container. It turned out to be a chemical substance that was an oxidizer by nature which causes irritability in those that have respiratory issues.”

Vancouver Coastal Health says it was trichloroisocyanuric acid burning in a container. It’s an industrial disinfectant, bleaching agent and a reagent in organic synthesis.

“It is an irritant. It is a respiratory irritant, if you breathe it in. It also can irritate your eyes. We believe the risks are just short-term, but it’s still not advisable that anyone breathe this in or get it in your eyes,” explains Gavin Wilson with Vancouver Coastal Health.

Doctor Christopher Carlston works in the respiratory division of the School of Population and Public Heath at UBC.

He says the chemical involved is a big concern because it’s so toxic in a fire. “Some people can get asthmatic from that. Some people, it’s called RADS, and it’s a relatively rare thing, but not for me and my job because I focus on this. We do, not so infrequently in my clinic, have people who have had high levels of exposure to substances like this for relatively short-term minutes to hours and can actually develop asthma that’s long-term, meaning years to permanent.”

As News1130‘s Anita Bathe got closer to the fire, she says the smell of something toxic hit pretty quickly. “As soon as I got out of the truck and took a breath, it hit me pretty hard. I knew I had to cover my mouth and nose. As I moved west, the air got a little clearer.”

“It smelled like burning plastic. We were joking that somebody put a card in the computer wrong. It smelled like burnt electronic, computer, plastic smell,” described one woman leaving her office.

At one point, police wearing gas masks were using loudspeakers to order people indoors.

The City of Vancouver had put a shelter-in-place order east of Main, north of 1st and west of Nanaimo for most of the afternoon. People were told to go in to go indoors, close all windows. It was lifted shortly before 6 p.m.

At around 6:30 p.m. Port Metro Vancouver issued a statement saying the fire was under control. It added it would continue to work the fire and police departments, the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health.

All West Coast Express service had to be cancelled due to the blaze. TransLink says there is debris along the tracks that needs to be cleared before morning.

New Westminster Councillor is worried about movement of dangerous goods

With trains carrying hazardous cargo though New Westminster, Councillor Chuck Puchmayr is worried about the movement of dangerous goods.

“Whether it’s in a container or on rail, I mean it could be a container on rail, the fact is that there are dangerous goods that move through our communities on a daily basis, we need to be prepared in the event that we have an incident. We need to make sure that we have everything available at our disposal to contain any type of release such as that to ensure there is no injury or loss of life.”

He has already discussed with the fire chief a need to beef up the city’s emergency preparedness plan, and hoping to draw lessons from the chemical fire.
He says the city improved communications with railway companies and trained fire fighters in dangerous goods response after the Lac Megantic disaster.

You can find our album of photos here.