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Devastating recycling fire came out of the blue

The fire covered an area of two hectares and completely wiped out half of the facility's main building.
March 05, 2013 - 9:58 AM

By Charlotte Helston

A fire has compromised much of Vernon's Birnie Rd. recycling plant, and along with it, the jobs of over 30 employees.

The fire was reported around 9:30 p.m. Friday night, and fire crews have been there ever since, first reining in the flames, then preventing new flare-ups, and now investigating the cause.

A concrete foundation is all that remains of much of the facility, leaving few clues for investigators to decode what happened.

"It will be a large job to find the site of origin," deputy fire chief Jack Blair says. "Due to the extreme damage, we might never know what started it."

So far, nothing has suggested foul play was involved, and that's one thing that comforts the staff of Bluewater Project Inc. and Venture Training, the companies that provided the processing services for the facility.

"I'm relieved it wasn't arson," manager of regional engineering services Nicole Kohnert says. "Somehow, that makes it a bit easier to take."

The fire ate away at half the facility's main building before fire crews could contain it. Much of the debris can't even be recycled because of fire damage. A $50,000 conveyer belt will likely have to be replaced, but a pricey baler might be salvageable. Sorting equipment on the far side of the building was also spared from the flames. The facility processed all of the Regional District of North Okanagan's blue bag recycling material as well as commercial recyclables and covered a range from Grindrod to Cherryville.

"The public won't see the effects," Kohnert says. But the employees will. They were laid off Monday and might not get their jobs back—ever.

While rebuilding is an option, Kohnert isn't getting her hopes up. Right now, the operation is getting by sending materials to the recycling facility in Kelowna—a temporary fix that's likely to become permanent.

Employees were already facing uncertainty before the fire erupted out of the blue. New management is taking over the facility in May, as per a new government policy. The province is shifting the responsibility for end-of-life management of packaging and printed paper (PPP) from governments and their taxpayers to industry and their consumers. This means Bluewater and Venture Training had to send an expression of interest to Multi-Material B.C.—the agency established to oversee the transition—asking them to contract the work out to them.

"Two days ago, I sent an expression of interest to have them use our building and employees," Kohnert says. "Now, after what happened, it's not looking good."

With no processing facility, it's unlikely Bluewater and Venture Training will get the contract. Kohnert predicts trucking material to Kelowna will be the new way of handling  the district's recyclables.

The facility remains open for drop-off of materials and is functioning as a holding place before loads are moved to Kelowna. The district  is reminding the public of alternate recycling facilities in the region:

Interior Freight and Bottle Depot – 4205 24th Avenue, Open Monday to Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Armstrong/Spallumcheen RDF – 3367 Powerhouse Road, Open Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Lumby RDF – 221 Trinity Valley Road, Open Thursday to Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Nicole Kohnert stands before the wreckage, wondering what might be salvaged.
Nicole Kohnert stands before the wreckage, wondering what might be salvaged.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca or call (250)309-5230

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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