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Fire Mitigation Practices Through Fire History

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Fire prevention through fire safety planning and routine fire inspections is key in limiting the spread of fire. Fire code requirements are often added, updated, or revised as a result of fire loss history. In February 1990, a fire occurred in an outdoor tire storage area (approximately 48,000 m² site) in Hagersville, Ontario, which involved an estimated 14 million tires, and burned for 17 days, forcing 4,000 people to evacuate their homes. Just three months later, in May of 1990, another large tire fire occurred in Saint Amable, Quebec, where nearly 32,000 m² of tires burned. Tires were piled as high as 13 m in some locations. It was estimated that as much as 20 million liters of oil may have been released to the environment as a result of the fire, though efforts were made to capture, and contain the oil run-off.

Tire Fire in Hagersville, ON Canada (CTV News image). Image linked to CTV News Report.

In 1995, the National Fire Code of Canada (NFCC) was updated to include specific requirements pertaining to the outdoor storage of rubber tires, which was not specifically addressed in prior editions of the Code. Since then, the NFCC has required that outdoor rubber tire storage areas be limited to an area of 1,000 m² per pile, a pile height of not more than 3 m, and pile separation of not less than 15 m. The intent of the requirement is “To limit the probability that a fire involving the outdoor stored products will spread to other individual storage areas and to adjacent buildings or facilities, which could lead to damage to adjacent buildings or facilities.”

Any facility that stores combustible products or dangerous goods (both indoor and outdoor storage) is required to have a fire safety plan. Within the fire safety plan, storage information such as the following is required:

  • the location and classification of material/product stored,
  • the method of storage and required clear space around the storage,
  • the maximum permitted size of storage pile,
  • the location of fire alarm system and firefighting equipment, and
  • the controls in place to limit fire hazards in and around the storage area.

The Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” At the end of 2019, a tire fire in central New Brunswick involving over 20,000 m² of outdoor tire storage burned for nearly a week prior to being smothered with sand and soil. The fire did not directly cause any injuries or deaths, but the future impact on health of individuals and the environment is not yet determined.

It is imperative that we do not ignore past events and the requirements of the Code and Standards that resulted from such events. In New Brunswick, as in most jurisdictions, Code enforcement responsibilities are shared for industrial occupancies. Local municipalities are often responsible for enforcing fire prevention requirements. Insurance companies may require that owners comply with specific Codes or Standards and may conduct site condition inspections to verify conformance. However, the Owner of the property has the ultimate responsibility to comply with the mandated fire codes and standards.

In the future, we may continue to learn from the experiences that have resulted in fire losses and be more diligent in applying this knowledge and the requirements of codes and standards to limit the number and severity of fires.

PLC Fire Safety Engineering has the knowledge and expertise to help Owners develop property specific fire safety plans as well as perform routine fire and life safety inspections of buildings and facilities, to help improve fire safety.

Primary References

Link: National Research Council Publication Archive – The Hagersville Tire Fire

Link: National Research Council Publication Archive – The Tire Fire at Saint Amable

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