Barge loaded with scrap cars catches fire on Victoria waterway

Update, Saturday 3 p.m.: The Victoria Fire Department says the cause of the fire is going to remain unclassified, as an investigation is considered "high risk/low reward" in this case. Read the full story here

A barge loaded with cars caught fire on the Selkirk waterway, sending black smoke billowing across the Gorge area.

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Witnesses first spotted the fire about 2:10 p.m. and called 911.

Olivia Clark was serving at Glo Restaurant, where the patio was busy with patrons overlooking the waterway, when she saw a car on fire at the top of the scrap heap.

Workers on the barge tried to put the blaze out with a small hose, she said, but the fire quickly spread, creating a wall of flames.

The fire “was just the top at first and it started spreading down through the cars,” Clark said. The workers left the barge and the Victoria Fire Department arrived on scene.

The department used their fire boat and a high-angle ladder truck poured water from above onto the Seaspan barge, which was being used by Schnitzer Steel.

Fire Chief Paul Bruce said a boom was set up around the barge to capture any contaminants that fell into the water. Some car parts could be seen falling off the barge.

Bruce said it’s unclear what caused the fire, which was under control by about 4:30 p.m.

“I can only assume a spark of some sort,” he said.

Metal-recycling companies are required to empty fuel from vehicles before they are transported.

Seaspan president Bart Reynolds said in a statement: “The Seaspan barge 193 is in the care, custody, and control of our customer Schnitzer at their facility. We have no information about the fire, but our understanding is that Schnitzer and the local authorities have quickly brought the fire under control.”

No one from Schnitzer Steel could be reached for comment on Friday.

There was also a problem with a Schnitzer scrap metal barge in the Selkirk waterway in 2015 when dozens of cars and pieces of scrap metal fell into the waterway when a barge tipped.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment helped with the intensive cleanup.

Ministry spokesman David Karn said the responsible party pays all costs associated with an environmental cleanup, but could not say how much was owed after the spill.

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