An industrial fire at a Saskatoon auto wrecking yard caused heavy plumes of black smoke to be seen as far away as Warman, Blaine Lake and Humboldt Tuesday evening.
“The smoke got bigger and bigger; obviously more cars were catching on and then everything just started happening … and then it was just huge,” said Pat Dubets, who lives next door to AJ’s Salvage and saw everything unfold.
Police received a call just after 5:30 p.m. from witnesses who reported seeing young kids in the area lighting tires on fire.
Not long after, the Saskatoon Fire Department arrived on scene at Ave P South and 14th Street for what was initially reported as a single car fire.
“Once they realized what they were up against, they automatically called for reinforcements,” Saskatoon’s assistant fire chief, Dave Bykowy, said Wednesday.
At least 100 cars ended up burning in AJ’s Salvage yard, which contained more than 1,000 vehicles.
The vehicles were also stacked five high, adding to the vertical height of the fire.
“Which just adds to how fast the fire propagates,” he said.
The cars were prepared to be crushed; meaning there was no gas, or other flammable fluids inside them, Bykowy said.
At the early onset of the fire, witness reported hearing explosions coming from the fire.
“There’s (air bag) inflators; they’re just small little cylinders that can be compressed to extremely high pressures…and as they get heated up, that pressure is going to go somewhere and just pop,” Bykowy said.
More than 40 personnel were involved in the fight.
When police arrived, officers located five boys, between the ages of eight and 14 years, and took them in for questioning.
The youth have been released into the custody of their parents.
Charges are pending.
At 11:14 p.m. the fire was declared under control, with just a few stubborn hot spots lingering.
One of the biggest challenges to the fire department as they worked to contain the blaze, was the distance of the location from a water source. They used five engines and two tankers to get the job done.
Due to the amount of plastic being burned, the Ministry of Environment was involved to see if there is a need for concern on air quality, especially with the proximity to St. Paul’s hospital.
As of Wednesday, smoke had greatly diminished in the area and was given the all-clear by the Ministry of Environment.
Assistant Chief says damage estimated at $250,000
Speaking late Wednesday morning, assistant fire chief Dave Bykowy said crews and equipment started to be pulled out around midnight. He said he expected the last crew to leave the scene around noon. From there, he said the site would be turned back over to the owner.
Bykowy said the owner of the salvage yard told him there were 1000 scrap vehicles involved in the blaze, with an estimated value of $250,000.
“He does not have insurance. In fact, those types of vehicles, being that they’re scrap vehicles, they’re really not insurable. So unfortunately for the business, this is a catastrophic loss,” Bykowy said.
The assistant chief said that as of Wednesday, there were no concerns about air quality around the site. He said air intakes at St. Paul’s Hospital were shut off to keep out toxic smoke during the incident and that they were preparing to issue shelter-in-place orders to the area around the fire before the smoke dissipated.
Learning that a group of children were set to be charged in relation to the fire, Bykowy said it was an important reminder for parents to be vigilant with their kids.
“It’s really unfortunate, especially going into an area like that where there’s not only a fire risk, but a collapse risk where you get into these cars and there’s just a lot of dangers in there,” he said.