BAIE VERTE, NL — There were many unique challenges to personal and public safety involved in fighting the recycling depot fire in Baie Verte Monday, according to the town’s fire chief.
The 50 to 60-kilometre per hour winds and -15/-16C wind chill would pose a concern at any fire, said Lorne Head. Fortunately, those winds were westerly, blowing away from the firefighters as they battled the blaze that all but destroyed the Baie Verte Green Depot.
It was also lucky to have those winds blowing away from the nearby Great Canadian Dollar store, which – like homes and other businesses in the area – was evacuated shortly after the fire was reported.
The temperature didn’t cooperate as much.
“The grounds weren’t safe to be even walking on with all the ice,” Head said. “Plus, the firefighters’ bunker suits and gear – everything was freezing up and was hard to walk in.
“That made things slower happening too, because you have to be so cautious that nobody gets hurt or slips and falls and breaks a leg.”
A team of about 15 volunteer firefighters responded, according to the chief. Some were not working at the time, while employers excused others from work to join the effort.
At their arrival, smoke was coming from the eave of the facility in an area primarily used for storage, said Head.
The team attempted to extinguish the fire with an interior attack, but had to stop because of safety concerns due to the nature of the materials kept inside the building.
Since the recyclables were on the opposite side of the facility, the full load that was supposed to be picked up that day was about to be removed as the fire grew in intensity.
The firefighters concentrated their efforts on an exterior attack as the afternoon progressed, but heavy black smoke and flames soon engulfed the depot.
Flames broke through the roof about an hour after firefighters responded, according to the chief.
The primary public concern was exposure to smoke from the building and the burning recycling products.
The most impacted area was the section of Main Street between the depot and the post office, according to the town’s Facebook page. Although residents had been evacuated and the area barricaded, smoke was expected to continue to spread throughout the evening.
Barricades had been lifted by late evening, and it was at residents’ discretion to return to their homes or stay elsewhere overnight to reduce their risk of smoke exposure.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also responded and directed traffic away from the area throughout the afternoon and early evening. People in nearby homes had been evacuated.
No injuries were reported, according to police.
RCMP reported the cause of the fire to be under investigation, and asked people not to enter the area for personal safety and the safety of the first responders.
Traffic was restricted in the zone on Main Street from Shoppers Drug Mart to the Canada Post building. Heavy smoke in that area posed a risk to the public, according to police.
Head said firefighters were able to win the battle with the fire by early evening. Because of the wind direction and firefighters’ efforts, the chief said not even the siding of the nearby Dollar Store was scorched.
One crew was able to leave the scene to get some rest, while others remained to monitor the scene for potential flare-ups. Other crewmembers, rested and rejuvenated, returned around midnight as firefighters stayed at the scene until between 2 and 3 a.m.
Even the following morning, Head some there was still some light smoke coming from the facility, which was destroyed except for a few exterior portions of walls that still stood. The roof had collapsed under the heat and damage.
“Thanks to the local fire department for being able to work under those conditions, and to be able to save the nearby buildings shows the job they did,” the chief said.
Baie Verte Mayor Brandon Philpott echoed those sentiments.
“I guess everybody is realizing the benefit of our fire department now,” he said Monday.
Philpott said it was another sad day for the town, which has seen its share of fires in recent years. The town lost its only personal care centre in April when Baie View Manor burned to the ground. The town also lost its fire department to a fire in 2010.
Although primarily concerned about the safety of residents and gaining control of the fire, the mayor acknowledged some thought would have to be given to an interim solution for the area’s recycling needs.