Manitoba biofuel processor’s plant destroyed

Winnipeg firefighters cool down the wreckage of Speedway International as demolition contractors move in. (Dave Bedard photo)

Years after becoming Manitoba’s first-ever licensed commercial biodiesel processor, Speedway International has picked up a new and unasked-for distinction.

“This was one of the largest fires that (Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service) crews have attended with regards to number of firefighters and pieces of equipment used,” the WFPS said Tuesday after a second-alarm fire destroyed Speedway’s biofuel plant in the city’s St. Boniface district on Monday evening.

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

The company’s Pro Comp brand of racecar-grade methanol was offered for sale by the drum, tanker truck or rail car to buyers throughout North America.

On the property were four tank cars, each with capacity of about 100,000 litres, containing biodiesel, ethanol and racing methanol, according to Bill Clark, WFPS’s deputy chief of fire operations. Also onsite were a 50,000-litre capacity tanker truck and another 173,000 litres of methanol stored in the building, much of it in 55-gallon drums.

Demolition contractors were on site Tuesday afternoon while city firefighters continued to soak and cool down the building’s wreckage.

The WFPS estimated total damage to the facility at about $15 million. The fire’s cause “has not yet been determined.”

Firefighters got their first call to the scene from the building’s alarm system at 5:27 p.m., followed very shortly afterward by calls to 9-1-1 from other businesses and residents not far from the industrial-zoned area, Clark said. The plant had already closed for the day and no injuries were reported.

Local media outlets were soon posting footage of large fireballs rising on columns of black smoke, as the facility’s tanks began to explode. Firefighters had to work from a safety perimeter of 800 metres.

A wider perimeter of one kilometre was set up west of the plant, from within which about 100 homes and businesses were evacuated until about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Firefighters had the fire “under control” by about 11:15 p.m. Monday, Clark said.

Apart from nearby railway track affected by burning grass, the adjacent businesses, including Landmark Feeds’ retail outlet next door, were undamaged, he added.

In all, Clark said, the blaze required 68 firefighters and 22 units, including nine pumper trucks, aerial ladder units, rescue units and a hazmat unit, along with police units to help control traffic and evacuate the area, plus co-operation and support from city social services, railways and Manitoba Hydro staff.

Related stories:
Manitoba to replace biodiesel tax break with grants, April 9, 2010
Manitoba mandates biofuel content for diesel, Sept. 11, 2009

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