VANCOUVER - Free salt has become a hot commodity in Vancouver as some residents clamour for more than their fair share of a limited supply intended to keep sidewalks safe during an unusually cold winter.
The city offered residents two buckets of salt at 10 fire halls on Wednesday, but that was scaled back to one small bucket after all the salt was gone within an hour and more had to be delivered.
Capt. Jonathan Gormick of Vancouver Fire and Rescue said residents cleared some fire halls of salt soon after it arrived on Tuesday night, when crowds got out of control at three fire halls.
"We had to get Vancouver police to respond and intervene, partly because of the sheer volume of people. Unfortunately, they had to intervene in a couple of incidents where people were starting to get physical and heated with each other."
One man showed up at a fire hall with a pickup truck and tried to load it with garbage bins he'd filled with salt, but firefighters strongly encouraged him from returning, Gormick said.
One online ad listed salt collected from a fire hall for sale for $50 and Gormick said the price went up to $80 according to someone he spoke with. He called the whole affair "Salt-apocalypse."
Staff at fire halls were keeping an eye on the little inventory that remained after a second delivery Wednesday to ensure people "use their conscience" and don't go overboard with the free salt, Gormick said.
Snow, followed by slush and falling temperatures turned streets into skating rinks, resulting in the high demand for salt.
"I don't remember a situation like this," Gormick said, noting some West Coast residents aren't prepared with even a shovel to deal with snow, let alone salt for ice.
"It may seem unrealistic to ask residents to keep a couple of bags of salt on hand for when it does snow, and a snow shovel, but it's not very costly to acquire a couple of bags of salt and keep it in the shed."
The city said more than 260 staff have been reassigned from other projects and about 150 are helping to salt and sand residential streets to protect people from falling on rock-hard ice, especially at higher elevations and around schools.
So far this winter, the city has gone through about 7,000 tonnes of salt, which is seven times the average amount used in each of the previous two winters.
It's also working with salt suppliers to ensure adequate reserves are available as the forecast calls for cold conditions to continue until mid-January, the city said in a release.
Plunging temperatures across British Columbia have had residents turning up the heat, leading to an all-time-high demand for electricity.
BC Hydro said that between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday, power consumption peaked at 10,126 megawatts, breaking a record from Nov. 29, 2006, when 10,113 megawatts were used during the same time period.
But the utility said the new record is expected to be shattered again later this week as frigid temperatures are forecast to continue.
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