Four days after a fire engulfed a downtown hotel property, the Victoria Fire Department is still pumping water onto smouldering hot spots.
Since early Monday morning firefighters sprayed over 4 million gallons of water onto the Plaza Hotel at 603 Pandora Ave. While much of this water evaporated, high levels of runoff ran into storm drains and, as a result, the Inner Harbour.
“Fighting fires is an industrial process and you do get contaminants running from it, without a doubt,” said John Roe, co-founder of the Veins of Life Watershed Society. “Lead, mercury, zinc cadmium… a lot of these old buildings were painted again and again and again.”
Heavy metal pollutants, hydrocarbons, debris and any fire retardants used would also end up in the water. The fire department is still trying to determine if any asbestos was in the building.
Roe said that fires are well-documented sources of pollution that can really only be managed if there are tools on site to reclaim any water runoff, such as specialized pumps, which are not readily available in the Capital Region.
The Canadian Coast Guard went to work on Monday to take preventative measures, sending out 300 feet of boom into the Inner Harbour to contain dirty water and possible pollutants.
The boom was removed on Wednesday morning after no signs of hydrocarbons were found within the boom boundary.
A report from the Canadian Coast Guard to the Victoria Fire Department said that no surface pollutants were detected, however more testing needs to be done to look at pollutants at deeper levels, as well as in the air.
The City of Victoria has hired West Coast Environmental Testing to determine air quality hazards, and is working with the CRD to test the water.
“We’re continuing to test to make sure that the debris that’s been entrained in the water from the firefighting effort is understood and that we can manage that to the best of our abilities,” said Fraser Work, director of engineering for the city. “This is an active fire and and active emergency zone, so in some cases there’s very little we can do except test, and then communicate with people of what hazards exist before we can do anything to mitigate.”
This isn’t the first fire to potentially affect local waterways; Roe recalled a fire in 2000 off Bay Street that saw pollution levels in the Gorge go up for a short period of time.
Thursday afternoon, the city was continuing its efforts to extinguish the Plaza Hotel fire, and bring down unstable walls before an investigation into the cause can begin. The missing caretaker, Mike Daeger, is still unaccounted for.
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