Man. officials weigh changes after biofuel processor burns

A spectacular fire that destroyed Manitoba’s first licensed commercial biodiesel plant has the province’s fire commissioner pondering changes to the way such facilities are inspected.

Manitoba’s Office of the Fire Commissioner on Friday said it’s completed its investigation of the Oct. 1 blaze at Speedway International, in an industrial-zoned area of Winnipeg’s St. Boniface district, and ruled the fire to be accidental.

The fire is believed to have started due to "spontaneous combustion of an oily substance" in the plant’s filter press area, the commissioner’s office said in a statement.

Speedway produced oilseed-based biodiesel as well as methanol for use in high-performance racecars.

Storage or disposal of oily rags in piles at industrial plants can allow them to self-heat, or the process could have been "accelerated due to heat created from industrial processes like equipment operation or friction," the OFC said, noting piles of straw, coal, grass clippings or manure can spontaneously combust.

The OFC said it will now work with the province’s fire safety inspection subcommittee "to consider whether there should be any changes (or mandated time frames) for inspections of these, or similar types of industrial facilities."

The subcommittee includes representatives from the OFC, fire departments from Winnipeg and other centres and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities. "Municipal involvement is critical because enforcement of the fire code, and responsibility for zoning, rests with each municipality," the OFC said.

Canola oil

During the Oct. 1 fire, large fireballs were seen rising on columns of black smoke at the plant, forcing firefighters to work from a safety perimeter of 800 metres. Fire officials also set up a one-kilometre perimeter west of the plant, from within which about 100 homes and businesses were evacuated for several hours.

The company had set up its Winnipeg shop in 1998, before the province began providing per-litre production incentives to biodiesel makers in 2009. Speedway, before the fire, had capacity to produce 20 million litres of biodiesel per year, along with other biofuel products.

In a separate release Friday, Speedway owner Royce Rostecki said he wanted "to assure the public the fire they witnessed was burning canola M.E. (methyl esters), which (are) derived from long-chain fatty acids of canola oil, and not dangerous goods or hazardous materials."

The company quoted investigators as confirming "no petroleum products were improperly stored and no railcars had been breached or lost product in the fire," and that all railcars containing methanol were "completely unaffected."

Speedway said Friday it plans to rebuild its core business of "primarily water-based automotive products," but won’t rebuild biodiesel operations on the St. Boniface property.

Winnipeg fire officials on Oct. 2 estimated the total damage to the facility to be worth about $15 million.

Related story:
Manitoba biofuel processor’s plant destroyed, Oct. 2, 2012

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