Windsor Plywood fire factors, implications reviewed

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Investigation into cause ongoing

The Salt Spring Fire Protection District is re-examining potential risks and its ability to meet them following the massive fire at Windsor Plywood on June 1.

Acting Fire Chief Jamie Holmes provided a presentation on the fire during the district’s board of trustees meeting Monday night. Multiple photos taken over 14 hours of firefighting and overhaul operations revealed the fire’s rapid growth once smoke and flames had filled the plywood store’s vast interior.

Holmes described how crews focused at first on getting water inside the building but that did not help contain the blaze, because of the level of intensity it had reached on the bell curve.

“While initial efforts were focused on containing the fire to the area of origin, it became clear we were not gaining on the fire and tactics were changed to ensuring the fire did not spread beyond the main building,” Holmes said in his report.

Crews were ultimately successful at ensuring the fire did not leap to other structures or the surrounding supply yard.

Responding to questions from trustees, Holmes reported the cause of the fire was still under investigation by insurers, but he noted it started somewhere deep inside the building. Initial investigations suggest it did not start in the paint supply area, he said, nor in the section where new offices were under construction.

In response to questions about water supply and whether an aerial apparatus would have helped, Holmes agreed more resources are always useful, but the main factor in this fire probably was the length of time it had been permitted to grow unchecked before firefighters got to it.

Holmes said the Windsor Plywood building was not connected to a commercial alarm system, and smoke had probably triggered the intruder alarm that resulted in the first call to 911. Having sprinklers installed would have made the biggest difference to keeping the intensity level on the lower side of the bell curve, Holmes explained.

Trustee Rollie Cook joined with the rest of the board in commending the fire department for their efforts and their results. He wondered if the organization should create a new report on high risk buildings in Ganges before the next assessment by the Fire Underwriters Survey, and also whether the fire district could compel the use of sprinklers and alarms through bylaws. 

Holmes agreed it would be timely to get a legal opinion on what powers the district has under its letters patent. 

In other related business Monday night, the board agreed to support purchase of a new SCBA air compressor, to be installed at the Fulford Fire Hall. District CAO Andrew Peat noted Homes’ request was to create back-up support, since the only compressor they own was in fact out of service during the Windsor fire. That compressor is currently being repaired, but the addition was deemed important for emergency needs. The unit is expected to cost around $40,000 before taxes. 

Monday’s meeting was the first for two new members of the board. Winona Cook and John Wakefield were each acclaimed to their positions after a by-election nomination period last month. Cook will serve until the end of the 2021 annual general meeting and Wakefield’s term ends at the 2022 AGM. 

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