Richmond rail bridge fire still smouldering, crews to be on site all day

An air quality bulletin has now ended following a fire at a decommissioned rail crossing in Richmond Thursday night. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The massive fire that wrecked an inactive rail trestle bridge between Vancouver and Richmond is still smouldering Friday, after crews worked to knock down the fire for more than eight hours.

Richmond Fire-Rescue Chief Jim Wishlove tells CityNews crews were fighting the blaze until around 5:30 a.m. Friday.

“This morning, we had nine firefighting units on scene. They’re fully staffed working on extinguishing that fire,” he explained. “We also had some very good support from the Vancouver Fire Department Marine Unit, which was really helpful in extinguishing the final parts of the rail trestle that reached out into the river”.

Wishlove explains the fire investigation team is on-site determining their cause and origin investigation plan.

“At this point, we’re unable to comment on the cause. We haven’t begun the technical investigation of the cause or where the origin is. So it would be really too early to offer any opinion on that,” he explained.

“Typically, [the investigation] plan involves some significant safety considerations for our investigation team and for the immediate public and the community in that area. There’s a number of structures that were involved in the fire, so we are having structural engineers assess those structures for their integrity to see if they are safe to go in and operate either in or underneath.

“Once we get those reports back, then we can finalize the plan,” he said, adding that the investigation will most likely start on Monday or Tuesday.

“My our biggest concern right now is the safety of my staff, the public, and any other representatives that are coming down there to to collaborate with us. And so those safety considerations are paramount. And these other administrative pieces really have to be put in place before we can start taking any further actions, beyond extinguishing the hotspots.”

Wishlove says firefighters are still working to completely put out some “random” and “very small” hotspots that were hidden under debris overnight.

“Now, we can see them in the daylight, so we have firefighting crews, fire engines, and crews down there today, putting large volumes of water to finalize the extinguishment of these hotspots,” he said.

“Our typical operation is to do that, we’ll go stop applying the water for a few minutes and watch and see what’s smoldering again, and then attack those pieces in there.

“Over the course of the day, people on the river may very well see wisps of smoke coming from the trestle or the structure. And our crews are there and watching and dealing with those for the rest of the day today.”

Earlier on Friday, Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Grant Wyenberg told CityNews that “the terrain and the materials involved have made for a very challenging fire to extinguish completely.”

The fire broke out around 9 p.m. Thursday, sending massive plumes of thick black smoke into the air.

Stephan Clottenberg, who owns a business across the street from where the fire started, says he heard explosions from an abandoned port where rail containers are loaded, and watched the flames spread onto the rail bridge.

“It’s crazy because people [were] still driving down the street, underneath the flames. And in the time I was standing there calling the fire department, calling it in, when I turned round to walk back to my warehouse, there was already people gathering — almost blocking traffic — cars parked all over the place,” said Clottenberg.

The fire was visible from as far away as Bowen Island, and an air quality statement was in effect for the entirety of Metro Vancouver as air quality dramatically dipped due to the smoke.

The smell of the fire could still be found around Vancouver and Richmond, however, Metro Vancouver rescinded the air quality statement Friday.

Wishlove says his department has been working with the property owners — CP Rail — since Thursday.

“Over the course of last night’s events, and throughout the day to day so far, there’s there’s no reports of any injuries to my staff or to the community or to the public, which is really the best outcome here,” Wishlove shared.

Coming into hot weather, Wishlove is urging people to call emergency services if they smell or see smoke.

“It would be better for a fire department unit to go and find that there’s actually nothing there, than for somebody to not want to bother the crews, especially with these dry conditions in the heat, in the summer that’s coming. It’s always a good idea to call 911. And let us go and check it out,” he added.

The bridge, known as the Marpole Rail Bridge, was built in 1902, but hasn’t been used in more than 10 years. This isn’t the first time it caught fire; in 2014 the other end of the trestle went up in flames.

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With files from Michelle Mieklejohn and Monika Gul.

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