Fire crews arrived unaware of thousands of litres of biodiesel fuel at St. Boniface inferno site
Published Tuesday, November 20, 2012 6:00PM CST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 21, 2012 10:43AM CST
Winnipeg fire officials said crews did not initially know what type of chemicals were used at the site of a raging inferno that consumed Speedway International in October and caused nearby homes to be evacuated.
The business occupancy permit for the site was to manufacture windshield wiper fluid. The Speedway International site also had thousands of litres of biodiesel fuel at the location.
“We were wondering what it was. It was after the first main explosion that we actually did find out what was there,” said William Clark, acting deputy chief of the Winnipeg fire department.
Occupancy permits are issued when a business opens. If things change afterwards, the fire department might not be informed.
The Speedway International location had not been inspected since 2001.
“It goes back to what the code requires in the first place. The onus is on the owner,” said Clark.
But if an owner doesn’t spread the word, Clark said the fire department won’t know what’s on site.
Jean-Louis Eusanio lived near the site where the St. Boniface blaze raged.
“It was scary to see it, but after we knew what was going on, they let us know us know it was under control,” said Eusanio.
CTV News asked Manitoba Fire Commissioner David Schafer whether some businesses could be storing fuel in places they’re not permitted to have it.
“I guess that is a possibility,” said Schafer.
He said there is nothing in the fire code holding the city back from getting information.
“Nothing stops a municipality from going over and above the regulation at the present time,” he said.
Premier Greg Selinger also weighed in.
"We want to make sure these facilities, wherever they are, are safe. And fire inspections obviously need to be done more frequently that that, and that's one of the things we can review,” said Selinger.
A review committee, which includes Winnipeg fire officials, is scheduled to meet in December to examine the current regulations in place.
Speedway International also issued a statement Tuesday.
“In 2008, when the organization decided to expand its business to include a biodiesel component, architectural and engineering drawings were submitted as part of a request for a change in existing Occupancy Permit. All architectural and engineering drawings and correspondence were filed with the City of Winnipeg,” said the company.
“Subsequently, Speedway International was asked to make changes regarding the handling of windshield washer fluid. Speedway International made the required changes and issued correspondence that the changes were made by the end of 2009 and commenced open operation of the biodiesel facility. After filing the change in occupancy paperwork and making the required operational changes, Speedway International operated on the assumption that it had fulfilled its requirements with the City and Province.”
The company also said it would work with city and provincial authorities to clarify any communication issues.
“Until the fire in October 2012, which was deemed by The Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner as an accident ‘as a result of spontaneous combustion of an oily substance in the filter press area of the facility,’ Speedway International has been operating with an impeccable safety record since opening the facility in St. Boniface industrial park in 1998,” said the company in its statement.
Several explosions could be seen as the St. Boniface blaze burned on Nicolas Avenue in Winnipeg on Oct. 1, 2012. (photo courtesy Jennifer Walker)