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Spontaneous combustion blamed for massive inferno

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THE St. Boniface inferno last week was the result of "spontaneous combustion," the fire commissioner has ruled.

The $15-million fire at Speedway International Oct. 1 sent a huge fireball high into the sky, forcing residents to flee their homes and firefighters to back off for fear massive tanks of racing fuel would explode.

"The Office of the Fire Commissioner (OFC) has now completed the fire investigation into the industrial fire that occurred at Speedway (International) and has determined the fire to be accidental," a provincial spokesman said Friday.

"It's believed the fire started as a result of spontaneous combustion of an oily substance in the filter-press area of the facility."

Speedway owner Royce Rostecki said Friday the fire commissioner's conclusion exonerates the company.

"This confirms what we were told by an independent investigator -- this was an exothermal reaction of canola M.E. (metabolizable energy) inside a filter press of the biodiesel facility. The investigator also determined that no human error, equipment failure, or negligence on behalf of Speedway International contributed to the fire," said Rostecki.

"The safety of our employees and neighbours has always been paramount and we have had an impeccable safety record since opening our facility in 1998."

The OFC will be working with the fire safety inspection subcommittee to consider whether there should be any changes (or mandated time frames) for inspections of these -- or similar types -- of industrial facilities, the province said.

"The Fire Safety Inspection sub-committee includes representatives from the Office of the Fire Commissioner, fire departments (including Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service) and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities. Municipal involvement is critical because enforcement of the fire code and responsibility for zoning rests with each municipality," the provincial spokesman said.

The province could not say how often the subcommittee meets nor how often it deals with the aftermath of specific fires.

The city is waiting to learn what role its own firefighters will play, said city spokeswoman Alissa Clark.

Clark said the city is still investigating whether there were any fire code violations at Speedway. "We're looking into that -- it'll require a bit of research," she said.

"Spontaneous combustion of materials can occur when a material with a low ignition temperature begins to self-heat," the fire commissioner's office stated. This self-heating occurs through the decay of the material, which generates heat to the point of combustion.

"In industrial processes, the storage or disposal of oily rags in piles can allow them to self-heat, or the combustion process could have been accelerated due to heat created from industrial processes like equipment operation or friction. Piles of straw, coal, and even large manure piles can spontaneously combust.

"Self-heating can even occur at home in the warmth of the inside of a pile of freshly cut grass clippings."

Rostecki emphasized no ethanol had burned -- the fire consumed a product derived from canola oil.

Speedway International plans to rebuild its core business of producing primarily water-based automotive products, but will not pursue rebuilding plans for the biodiesel production on the property.

"Now we are focused on rebuilding and getting 10 people back to work as soon as possible," Rostecki said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 A3

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