On Monday, May 26, 2008, the Fire Rescue Service of Prince George, British Columbia, was faced with managing four major incidents in a 12-hour period that would become the largest combined fire incident in the city's history. The first fire occurred at Canfor's North Central Plywood Divisions mill...
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On Monday, May 26, 2008, the Fire Rescue Service of Prince George, British Columbia, was faced with managing four major incidents in a 12-hour period that would become the largest combined fire incident in the city's history.
The first fire occurred at Canfor's North Central Plywood Divisions mill at 6565 Industrial Way in an industrial park in the city's south end. It is believed that burning embers from this fire were responsible for starting two of the other three major fires. Built in 1970, the main Canfor's plant building was wood construction and sheet-metal facing, with a roof constructed of timber and steel Howe trusses, and purlins five by 19½ inches located at 12½-inch centers. Rafters were two by 10 inches at 32-inch centers. The main plant measured 510 by 200 feet. The "Green End" building (where raw logs were cut into thin sheets of veneer by giant lathes) was 220 by 82 feet. The roof of the Green End was approximately 20 feet higher than the main plant building, with a sloping section joining the two roof sections. The buildings contained heat detectors, sprinklers and standpipes with fire hose stations. There were no Fire Department Connections to supplement the sprinkler and standpipe systems.
The Prince George Fire/Rescue Service was dispatched to a reported fire at the mill at 5:53 P.M. Engines 11 and 31, both 1,500-gpm pumpers, and Ladder 21, a 100-foot aerial ladder with a 1,750-gpm pump, responded with 12 firefighters under the command of Assistant Chief Rod Wiese. First-arriving units saw heavy smoke coming from the roof above the veneer dryers. All employees and Canfor's industrial fire crews had evacuated the building prior to the arrival of the fire department. The three apparatus were positioned along the west side of the building.
A 300-foot, four-inch hydrant supply line was laid by Engine 11. Firefighters stretched a 200-foot, 2½-inch line and a 200-foot, 1½-inch line into the building to attack the fire. A 200-foot, 1½-inch line was stretched to a door at the north end of the building. Engine 31 was fed by a 400-foot, four-inch hydrant supply line. Firefighters advanced a 300-foot, 2½-inch line and two 300-foot, 1½-inch lines to the lower roof on the north end of the building. Ladder 21 was supplied with a 200-foot, four-inch hydrant line. The aerial ladder was extended to the upper roof and firefighters advanced a 200-foot, 2½-inch line and two 200-foot, 1½-inch lines to the roof. Engine 41, a 1,250-gpm pumper, arrived at 6:13 P.M. Crews laid two 250-foot, 2½-inch lines and one 250-foot, 1½-inch line to the northeast corner of the building from Engine 41.
Fire Chief Jeff Rowland assumed command of the fire at 6:54 P.M. The first crews on the roof reported a partial collapse of the roof around ventilation equipment directly above the fire. Progress reports from the roof sector indicated the fire was breaking through the roof in different areas around other ventilation equipment. Firefighters aggressively attacked the fire from the interior and the roof for three hours using six 2½-inch lines and six 1½-inch lines.
At approximately 9:30 P.M., the wooden curtains above dryers one and two partially collapsed. When this occurred, the fire extended through the rest of the building within minutes. Incident commanders sounded the evacuation horn and the interior crews left the building without incident. As the roof crews were exiting the roof, fire was breaking through the roof behind them. The firefighters safely exited the roof using Ladder 21.
Rowland ordered firefighters to change to defensive operations. Fire apparatus and hoselines were repositioned to protect exposures and hazardous materials stored around the mill site. The plant's sprinkler system and standpipes were damaged when the building collapsed and could not be isolated from the hydrant system, further complicating water-supply issues. Engines 11, 31 and 41 were repositioned to protect exposures. Monitors on the three engines were deployed and several 2½-inch lines from each engine were placed into operation. The fire in the main building was contained and resources were used to protect the exposures. At 11:30 P.M., two 2,500-gallon water tenders were dispatched to the scene. Off-duty crews were called in to relieve firefighters at the scene. All available fire personnel were used at this fire.