Residents asked to stay inside as smoke from scrapyard fire pollutes Saint John, N.B.

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — A notice asking residents in some parts of Saint John, N.B., to stay indoors Thursday was expanded to include the entire city as a fire at a metal recycling yard along the harbour sent plumes of hazardous smoke into the air.

Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford said crews were battling a blaze at the American Iron & Metal recycling plant in the city's port, which was reported at 1:45 a.m. No injuries have been reported.

Clifford said the fire is in a massive pile of shredded car parts that is 10 metres high and measuring 300 metres by 300 metres. Although firefighters have made progress, he told an afternoon briefing that "a lot" of work remains.

"I do hope by tomorrow morning we're in a situation where we have total control, and if some rain rolls into our community it's just helpful," he said.

Dr. Rita Raafat Gad, acting medical officer of health for the Saint John region, said air quality in the area was affected by the fire.

"This fire is an industrial fire, so it contains a mixture of chemicals due to the various substances that are burning at this time — metals, plastics, rubber, foam," she said.

"While we can't really qualify what is being emitted from this fire, we expect that the plume from this fire can be hazardous to your health."

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for downtown Saint John that was in effect until Thursday evening because of elevated pollution levels. It said people may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath.

The fire forced the closure of three nearby schools with the Anglophone South School District. The district said the closed schools were Saint John High School, St. Malachy's Memorial High School and St. John the Baptist/King Edward School.

American Iron & Metal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gad "strongly" advised people to stay home, cancel outdoor activities, close all doors and windows and turn off heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Clifford said it is too early to determine what caused the fire, but he suspects it began undetected under the large pile and burned its way to the top. There have also been small explosions, and firefighters are working to make sure the blaze doesn't spread to other piles of scrap, he added.

Premier Blaine Higgs said there will be a full investigation.

"As part of that investigation, AIM must submit a preliminary report within 24 hours of the event and a followup report within five days of the event," Higgs said in a statement issued late Thursday.

"The investigation will take the time required and be thorough. There will be no consideration of resumption of operations until we have more information about what took place."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2023.

— By Hina Alam in Fredericton

The Canadian Press