OUR VIEW: This is why we should be concerned about tank farm safety

The fire that raged Saturday night on Burnaby Mountain is out, but embers of concern are still burning for North Burnaby residents – especially those who live on top of the mountain at UniverCity.

An unoccupied workshop/storage area went up in flames next door to the Trans Mountain tank farm facility.

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In all, it took 34 Burnaby firefighters to put out the fire. Thankfully, nobody was hurt and the fire didn’t reach the tank farm.

But it could have, depending if the fire had happened during a different time of year or under different conditions than what happened on Saturday night, according to the Burnaby Fire Department.

Assistant fire chief Barry Mawhinney called the winds that night “favourable” – meaning they didn’t blow hot cinders in the direction of the tank farm.

Secondly, the fire took place on a damp winter night. Mawhinney said that if this had been during a dry summer stretch, things could have turned out much differently.

Imagine it – dry grass and trees, parched from hot summer weather, catching fire as cinders land on them.

We don’t think it’s fearmongering to consider how this blaze would have turned out during a different time of year. The NOW has received many emails and social media comments from locals worried about the same thing.

Compounding the fire situation Saturday night was the difficulty firefighters had getting water to the site. The location of the fire was on a road that was at the top of a slope. Firefighters had trouble getting enough water pressure. They had to connect hundreds of feet of hoses all the way down Aubrey Street to a hydrant.

Time is of the essence during a fire, and that extra time to get water to the fire Saturday has highlighted a gap in services for this area.

The Burnaby Fire Department has expressed concerns about the tank farm before in light of the Trans Mountain project’s plan to expand pipeline capacity.

A May 2015 risk analysis by the department found a worst-case disaster scenario at the facility – the explosion of a burning crude oil tank known as a “boilover” – could cut SFU and UniverCity off from emergency services while unleashing toxic gases and fires.

“It is anticipated that the consequences of boilover exposure within the areas identified would include human injuries to emergency responders and unevaluated civilians, mass tree-top based wildland fire initiation, structural fire initiation to many residential buildings … and significant isolation of the SFU and UniverCity communities,” states the fire department report.

There is no fire hall on top of Burnaby Mountain, despite a growing population in the tens of thousands and the fact that there are only two access points, which actually become just one access point partway down the mountain.

Sure, the chances of something like this happening seem to be remote. Thankfully, the fire stayed in place.

It’s the “what if?” that should really worry people.

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