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'There was a lot of black smoke': Crane operator sounds alarm while trapped during highrise fire in Halifax

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A tower crane operator alerted emergency crews after noticing a fire on a construction site in Halifax Tuesday morning.

Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency and Halifax Regional Police responded to the fire on the corner of Robie and Almon Streets around 8:20 a.m.

Halifax Fire says flames and heavy smoke from burning roofing materials were coming from a highrise building under construction.

Smoke is seen over north end Halifax the morning of April 23, 2024. (CTV Atlantic)

“Structure Fire in the area of Robie Street/St Albans, smoke from the fire is possibly toxic. Please close all windows and shut off air exchangers if you live on the Peninsula. Residents from the Windsor St Exchange through to Point Pleasant Park should follow this advice,” read an alert from the city's notification system before 9 a.m.

David Mason had a birds-eye-view of the fire.

He’s the tower crane operator in charge of constructing the Richmond Yard Tower.

Mason was sitting in the cab of the crane, roughly 200 feet above the ground, when he noticed gray smoke billowing from a rooftop tar machine around 8:15 a.m.

“We noticed the flames,” said Mason. “And the four propane tanks.”

Mason quickly called 911 and asked his co-worker to evacuate the building and construction site.

“There were several propane tanks that exploded and, at that point, we became concerned about my safety and so we worked on a game plan to get me out of the crane,” said Mason.

Mason said he heard several explosions but visibility was quickly reduced as he was swallowed by heavy smoke inside the cabin of the tower crane.

“I didn't really have a good view, as I said, there was a lot of black smoke,” said Mason. “And for my safety I turned my back from the fire.”

Mason said he was scared, not for himself, but more for his co-workers. Eventually it was deemed safe for him to lock and exit the crane.

“I put the 911 operator on speaker phone, and I slowly climbed down the crane safely,” said Mason.

He remained in contact with the 911 operator the entire time, in case something went wrong.

Tower crane operator David Mason is pictured on April 23, 2024.

District chief Pat Kline, with Halifax Fire, said the tenth floor of the building was engulfed in flames when crews arrived.

“Our crews had a little bit of access issues because it’s a building under construction. We had to run water up through our aerial truck. The crews got two hoses on the fire fairly quickly,” said Kline.

“The fire was knocked down probably 15 or 20 minutes after we got some water on it.”

Kline said damage from the fire was limited.

“A fair bit of damage to the tar pot and the materials used, but the roof appeared to be mostly concrete, so that may be salvageable,” he said.

“There were no injuries.”

Once the fire was out, the Halifax Regional Municipality repeated its warning.

"Residents and businesses near the fire should still keep windows closed and air exchangers turned off until air quality conditions improve in the coming hours as a precaution," the post reads.

Halifax Fire says no adjacent buildings were damaged and the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Mason wasn't sure how the fire started but said it could have been a lot worse.

“Everybody was able to evacuate quickly,” he said.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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