A large warehouse at the airport in Churchill, Man., caught fire Wednesday, and quickly developed into what was “probably the biggest fire” the town’s fire chief says he’s ever fought.
E.J. MacCuaig, chief of the Churchill volunteer fire department, works at the airport and says he found out about the fire from an employee of Calm Air who was heading to the company’s warehouse on the air field.
This was around 8 a.m. When the first firefighters arrived on scene, it was clear the blaze hadn’t been burning long, he told CBC News.
“From what we could see, there was a little bit of fire showing and a little bit of smoke on a shed that was on the outside of the main building,” MacCuaig said, adding that firefighters initially thought the shed is where the fire started.
“We couldn’t find the seat of the fire, so we actually started hitting down a couple of hotspots, and then actually out of nowhere, we were kind of stepping back and trying to find where the fire was.”
He said there were strong winds that helped push and feed the fire, while bringing windchill values close to –40.
About 30 minutes in, MacCuaig said the amount of smoke got so intense that the firefighters had to pull back and reassess the situation.
“But by that point, there was so much smoke and so much fire that we just couldn’t do anything at that point,” he said.
No hydrants at airport
There were seven firefighters that responded to the initial call but 14 in total fought the inferno; the volunteer firefighters have two pumper trucks at their disposal.
There are no fire hydrants at the air field, so the firefighters have to make the best of the 1,000 gallons each of the two pumpers can provide.
Those were the resources available to take on the blaze that consumed the steel Calm Air warehouse. The structure was about two storeys tall and measured roughly 25,000 square feet, according to MacCuaig.
“At a certain point you have to make the assessment whether it’s worth trying to save the structure, and then take on the risk of that. Or, as we always say, ‘Property can always be replaced; people can’t,'” he said.
“We just didn’t have enough equipment on scene to be able to attack [the fire] even in a defensive role.”
It took up to four hours for the fire to burn out, MacCuaig said, adding that the roof of the building collapsed and nothing was salvageable inside.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by Manitoba RCMP and the office of the fire commissioner, but the Mounties say it does not appear to be suspicious.
MacCuaig speculates it originated from the wall of the warehouse and may have been caused by an electrical malfunction of some kind.
CBC was unable to reach Calm Air for more details Wednesday night.