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Section of old New Westminster pier destroyed by fire, 'smoke is highly toxic'

Last Updated Sep 14, 2020 at 9:56 am PST

Summary

A massive fire continues to burn at the pier in New Westminster

The old portion of the pier has been completely destroyed

It's unclear what caused the fire at New Westminster's iconic pier Sunday night

NEW WESTMINSTER (NEWS 1130) – About five to six acres of the wide, timber pier along New Westminster’s waterfront has been destroyed by a large fire that’s sending “highly toxic” smoke into the air, according to the city’s fire department.

This comes as firefighters from various stations in Metro Vancouver continue to battle a large blaze that engulfed the iconic landmark Sunday evening, burning well into Monday.

“Fire is contained but may last a few days,” reads an update from New Westminster firefighters posted to social media. “Please avoid the area. The smoke is highly toxic.”

Meanwhile, Fire Chief Tim Armstrong believes the resulting damage will be a devastating loss to the community and calls the waterfront park “a jewel of the city.”

“Fortunately we stopped it at the newer section of the park,” he said.

The fire started at New Westminster’s Pier Park near the SkyTrain bridge around 8 p.m. Sunday and burned westward, through the giant “W” statue, volleyball courts, and beach front lounging area.

“It quickly spread to the west underneath the volleyball courts … that whole area is about a five, six acre parcel that was fully involved underneath. That structure will be compromised and will have to come down,” Armstrong said, adding heavy equipment will be dismantling sections of the pier as crews continue to work to stop the burning and make way for investigators to come on scene.

The fire sent flames shooting into an ashy sky and plumes of smoke billowing across the Fraser River, adding to already-poor air quality in the region.

New Westminster Fire Services Assistant Deputy Chief Rob Dick said early Monday morning that crews were called to reports of a fire on the dock at 8:12 p.m. Sunday.

“We had a full first-alarm assignment, which was three pumpers, a rescue, and a squad. When they arrived on scene, there was smoke showing and flame coming from underneath the dock,” he told NEWS 1130.

“We had a second and third alarm, so we had responding departments. We had Delta and Coquitlam, and Vancouver’s fire boat was here on scene to assist with our fire fighting response.”

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté said on Twitter Sunday night that the “devastating fire” had been contained to the old part of the pier. He noted, “it is likely the old pier of the park will be completely destroyed.”

What would cause a fire in the dock is still unknown at this time.

“This smoke is toxic, there’s creosote down there, so we’re wearing all our PPE. It’s a dangerous and toxic environment at this point,” Dick says.

A front-end loader has been brought in to pull some of the burning structure apart, but there’s no indication how long it will be before investigators can get to the bottom of how the fire actually started.

“At this point, we still have to wait for the fire (to be) extinguished, and at that point, we can go in and start conducting our investigation. But this is very preliminary right now, we haven’t even extinguished the fire and at this point we don’t have a timeline for the extinguishment of the fire,” he explained.

The fire is currently contained to just underneath the dock. Dick says crews are still trying to gain access to the area where the fire is burning.

On what damage the pier has sustained, Dick would not say whether it was completely lost or not at this point.

“Until the fire’s extinguished and we get to determine the full extent, we won’t know at this point,” he said.

Front Street remains closed from Begbie to East Columbia. You can take Columbia as an alternate route.

SkyTrain service resumes

TransLink at one point suspended Expo Line service between Columbia and Scott Road stations due to the fire, citing smoke as an issue. A bus bridge had been set up for the last few hours of service Sunday night.

At the height of the fire, the smoke was so thick that you couldn’t see the tracks. However, despite the fire raging on,SkyTrain service resumed Monday morning.