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Large fire at Saint John recycling facility prompts school closures, voluntary shelter-in-place order


Firefighters in Saint John, N.B., are battling a large blaze at the American Iron and Metal recycling facility on Gateway Street.

The fire blanketed the area in a thick layer of smoke Thursday morning.

Port Saint John says it was first notified of the fire in the city's west side just before 2 a.m.

Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford said the fire is in a massive pile of shredded car parts -- 10 metres high and measuring 300 metres by 300 metres. Although firefighters have made progress, he told an afternoon briefing that a "a lot" of work remains.

"I do hope by tomorrow morning, we're in a situation where we have total control, and if some rain rolls into our community it's just helpful," he said.

A fire burns at the American Iron and Metal recycling facility in Saint John, N.B., on Sept. 14, 2023. (Avery MacRae/CTV Atlantic)

Saint John EMO issued a voluntary shelter-in-place order just before 11 a.m. for residents in the city’s south end and Millidgeville areas due to air quality concerns. The order was expanded just before 5 p.m. to include all residents of Saint John.

Environment Canada issued a special air quality statement for downtown Saint John that was in effect until Thursday evening because of elevated pollution levels. It said people may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath.

Multiple uptown businesses were closed Thursday due to air quality concerns.

Three uptown schools were also closed for the day:

  • Saint John High School
  • Saint Malachy's Memorial High School
  • St. John the Baptist/King Edward School

“Ya, I have a pretty bad headache because of it right now," high school student Nathan Hiller told CTV News Thursday morning.

“I live over here on the west side, and the wind is not going west, but I’m not happy for all the people that live in the direction the wind is going," resident Andrew Miller said.

Mayor Donna Reardon notes the city has no jurisdiction with the property the business is on, but has made her opinions clear on the matter.

“Heavy industry and residential does not work. It does not mix, it does not provide a safe environment, it impacts quality of life. There is lots and lots of problems with having heavy industry and residential right now trying to live side-by-side," she said.

Clifford said it is too early to determine what caused the fire, but he suspects it began undetected under the large pile and burned its way to the top. There have also been small explosions, and firefighters are working to make sure the blaze doesn't spread to other piles of scrap, he added.

Premier Blaine Higgs said there will be a full investigation.

"As part of that investigation, AIM must submit a preliminary report within 24 hours of the event and a followup report within five days of the event," Higgs said in a statement issued late Thursday.

"The investigation will take the time required and be thorough. There will be no consideration of resumption of operations until we have more information about what took place."

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Atlantic's Avery MacRae.

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