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Toronto fire could prompt big evacuation WebPosted Sun Apr 9 21:52:52 2000 ET

TORONTO - A gigantic fire raging in an industrial neighbourhood in the east end of Toronto had nearby residents on alert Sunday night, as potentially toxic smoke billowed into the sky.

At dusk, the fumes from the asphalt plant were blowing south over Lake Ontario, and could be seen as far away as Niagara Falls.

Crews from about two dozen fire trucks continued to battle the flames into the night.

Police said people in about eight homes on the edge of the industrial area had been forced to leave.

But as long as the wind didn't change direction, firefighters had no plans to expand the evacuation order.

Officials confirmed there are chemicals inside the factory, but said no one knows if the smoke is toxic. Environment Canada was monitoring the air quality.

The plant produces driveway sealers, caulking products, and other building materials. It's believed tanks of xylene, a flammable liquid solvent, are stored at the site.

The coast guard issued a warning to boats on the lake about possible danger.

The cause of the fire, which erupted about 4 p.m., is unknown. There have been no reports of injuries

-- Martin Thompson (, April 09, 2000


Monday April 10, 2000 Firefighters fought chemical blaze while Toronto residents stayed in homes, ready for evacuation Firefighters battle a blaze at a factory in the east end of Toronto Sunday. (CP/David Lucas) TORONTO (CP) - Hundreds of residents kept their doors and windows tightly closed Sunday night as firefighters battled a spectacular chemical factory fire, one of the worst blazes the city has seen in recent memory.

Although firefighters initially feared a mass evacuation, offshore winds late Sunday blew the thick, black and possibly toxic smoke billowing out of the factory out across the lake. Only about six homes were ultimately evacuated.

"It's scary, we're lucky the wind is blowing it over the lake," said Gisela Butscher, who has lived in the area 31 years.

The sprawling U.S.E. Hickson Products plant, about a kilometre from Lake Ontario in the southeastern suburb of Scarborough, went up in an inferno, fed by solvents, chemicals and asphalt used by the company to make deck preservatives and driveway-patching compounds.

Monday morning, about 20 fire vehicles remained on the scene as firefighters continued to extinguish hot spots.

A full assessment of the environmental damage caused by the blaze was also set to begin Monday morning.

Meanwhile, residents woke up to traffic chaos, as commuter GO train service was temporarily cancelled between Guildwood Station in east Toronto and Oshawa because of environmental concerns prompted by the fire.

On a normal weekday morning, over 18,000 people from Durham Region rely on the east-end commuter GO trains to get into Toronto.

Service was finally restored just before 10 a.m.

As the fire burned Sunday, people on the other side of the lake, at least 20 kilometres away, could see the black cloud rising over part of the city of more than two million people.

One neighbour didn't want to wait for the evacuation order and packed some belongings and headed to the north end of the city, but others weren't so ready to leave.

"If I was to see all these guys with gas masks, I'd be worried," said Doug Elliott, of the dozens of police and other emergency workers on the scene.

About eight homes on one street near the fire were evacuated as authorities feared a shift in the wind would place residents at risk.

About 150 firefighters fought the main blaze into the night but heat kept them back from burning chemical tanks until well into the evening.

Toronto police Supt. Jim Bamford said the fire was under control by about 11 p.m. and, with the wind still blowing to the south, decided that an evacuation was no longer necessary.

Shortly after the fire began at about 4 p.m. there were several explosions from the plant that rattled buildings several blocks away. Firefighters were particularly concerned about four tanks of chemicals including mineral oils and hexane that were being hosed down with water to keep them cool.

"I heard great big bangs and then I saw a great wall of flames shoot straight up into the air," said Sean Miller, 20, who lives across a ravine from the plant.

"There were purple flames every where. It quickly turned to purple smoke and then everything changed to black."

"It's one of the worst ones we've had in the megacity," said Fire Department commander Pat McCabe.

"This is a multi-million-dollar fire," said McCabe, without wanting to put a more exact dollar figure on the damage.

No one was in the plant and there were no injuries among the firefighters, he said.

At least two Salvation army trucks, several ambulances and transit authorities were on site in case an evacuation was necessary.

Dan Newman, Ontario's minister of the environment, was at the scene and said monitoring trucks were called in to test the surrounding atmosphere for toxins.

By 11 p.m. Sunday, a second truck with better detecting equipment arrived, but no readings were made available to the public.

Rail traffic was also halted on the Toronto-Montreal line just south of the plant. 025.html

-- Martin Thompson (, April 10, 2000.

Toronto Fire Raises Pollution Fears

Updated 1:36 PM ET April 10, 2000 By Vanessa Thomas TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian environmental officials began assessing toxic damage to the air and water around Toronto Monday after a chemicals fire erupted at a building materials plant in the east end of the city at the weekend.

No one was injured in Sunday's blaze at the plant belonging to U.S.E. Hickson Products Ltd., which manufactures a variety of products to protect concrete, wood and masonry.

At least 60 residents living near the facility in Toronto's Scarborough suburb were evacuated to a nearby school as a thick pal of toxic smoke billowed from the fire. However, winds carried the smoke away from residential areas and out over Lake Ontario.

City fire officials said the cause of the blaze was not known but expressed concern at the extent of water and air pollution from the blaze.

"The Ministry of the Environment is currently on site doing water and air assessment," Stephan Powell, chief information officer at Toronto Fire Services, said Monday.

"There's an armload of dangerous chemicals on the premises, which are mostly construction and home-maintenance materials."

The plant, which has been operating for 10 years, uses a variety of chemicals, solvents and raw materials, such as asphalt, varsol and linseed oil. Potentially the most harmful chemical on site is hexene, which can produce corrosive and toxic gases when it is burned.

Environment officials are testing the water runoff in the area because it may harbor pollutants. The ministry has also set up an air- monitoring van to test air quality.

More than 150 firefighters fought the blaze for about seven hours until midnight Sunday, fearing it could spread to large vats of explosive chemicals at the site.

Rush-hour commuter trains through the area were disrupted Monday, with at least five railway stations remaining closed while the environmental assessment was carried out.

Officials are estimating the damage in the multimillions of dollars. summaries=h

-- Martin Thompson (, April 11, 2000.

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