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North Delta fire under examination by authorities

The fire on May 27 was on a derelict property in an industrial area with limited vehicle access.
Delta firefighters are working to put out a large blaze in the 9300 block of Alaska Way, in an industrial area across the river from Annacis Island. (Gord Goble photo)

The May 27 fire on Alaska Way is being looked at in greater detail from both the Corporation of Delta and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority after discussion that the derelict state of the property and access to it may have had a hand in the severity of the blaze.

According to Delta Fire Chief Dan Copeland, the fire was difficult to manage in part because the department didn’t know what was stored on site. Explosions were visible on arrival, likely from propane tanks and other gases on site.

The fire started around 7 p.m., and the fire department left the scene nearly 12 hours later. Fire crews had to come back twice more to put out hot spots that had flared up.

Related: Crews fighting large fire in North Delta

An investigation into the cause of the fire has not yet yeilded any results.

During the June 19 council meeting, Counc. Robert Campbell questioned Port Authority vice president of real estate Tom Corsie on the fire, which was located on property owned by the Port Authority.

Corsie said he couldn’t go into too much detail on the property, which had been left in a derelict state since the tenant was evicted in 2011.

“It’s been a very challenging situation,” Corsie said. “We have moved equipment onto the site and more or less remediated the property. There are still many assets on that site owned by many people. It continues to be a challenge.”

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said the Corporation had been talking to the Port Authority about cleaning up the property.

“That’s something that I think we have to take great care of in these neighbourhoods,” she said. “That everything is stored properly and is in places where it should be.”

Copeland said the state of the property was a factor in the severity of the fire, and that fire crews used defensive tactics to battle the blaze, which increased the time it took to fight it.

The other issue, which Corsie pointed out first when asked about the fire’s location, was access.

In the past, Elevator Road would have been the most direct entrance to the industrial complex where the fire was located. That entrance was shut down when Highway 17 was built, although a railway crossing for the Burlington Northern Railway is still in place. Currently, the only vehicle access point is the Tannery Road interchange — three kilometres away — which forced the fire department to have to drive the length of the industrial complex to reach the site of the fire.

“That’s what really caused the delay,” Corsie said.

Copeland said the travel time did increase the response time to the fire, but that the main challenges in fighting the fire were the safety of the firefighters and the public, the size of the blaze and the unknown hazards on site.

Jackson said access to the industrial area was something the Corporation would be looking at in the future.

“It was a very big question mark in everyone’s mind, ‘How was this actually going to work on the ground?’” she said. “It was not really put to the test particularly, but certainly this was a very good test. But it’s just too long. It just takes too long.”

Delta staff have scheduled a site visit and review of Gunderson Slough, which will likely take place in a few weeks. Staff also attempted to set up a meeting for Jackson to discuss emergency access protocol for the complex with stakeholders, which include the Port Authority, City of Surrey, Burlington Northern Railway and the Ministry of Transportation. That meeting has not been set.