Thick, black smoke blanketed the sky Monday over an industrial park in St. Boniface, after a large fire broke out at an oilseed processing plant.
As the fire continued to rage in the late afternoon, a Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service official said the building is expected to suffer significant damages, if not become a total loss.
"We’re in strictly defensive mode. Crews are exterior fire attack only. The building has sustained significant damage. There’s roof collapse and structural collapse," said Ihor Holowczynsky, assistant chief of fire rescue operations.
"When an incident commander declares a defensive strategy, that means no one is going into the structure."
It is the third time a fire has broken out at the plant — which is listed as Friendly Family Farms Ltd. and located at 500 Dawson Road North — in the past 18 months.
The WFPS was deployed to the plant May 12, 2017, and Sept. 19, 2018, to fight minor fires.
Significant WFPS resources were deployed to battle the blaze Monday, although by the time they arrived on scene, the fire was too large to attack. Instead, crews deployed water cannons in an effort to stop the fire from spreading to other buildings.
Most of the smoke drifted high into the sky before dissipating, which simplified the response from fire crews, Holowczynsky said, adding it meant there wasn’t much concern an evacuation of area structures would be needed.
"What’s in the smoke is hard to tell... The actual mix of chemicals, no one really knows when it starts burning," Holowczynsky said.
"A main consideration is the safety of the public. So that huge plume of smoke that we all saw on our drive up here, we take into consideration what’s the wind direction, air pressure."
The WPFS wasn’t clear on when the fire broke out or what may have caused it, but said it appears to have been sparked in the south end of the plant.
Three employees were present at the time of the blaze. One was treated for smoke inhalation by paramedics at the scene.
Holowczynsky said while it’s impossible to say for certain what was burning inside the building — since it wasn’t safe for crews to enter the structure — there were certain chemicals associated with oilseed processing the department knew it was likely dealing with.
"This is an oilseed processing plant. So I imagine that would be most of what’s in there. Of course, we can’t confirm that because we’re in strictly defensive mode," he said.
"Our main concern now is to keep it from spreading."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.