The large tire fire that burned for close to four hours in the east end of Westlock last Tuesday was started by two children who were playing with lighters, RCMP said.
Town of Westlock and Westlock County fire departments responded to the blaze, which sent plumes of thick, black smoke wafting over Highway 18.
The children, who cannot be named or charged under the Criminal Code because they are under the age of 12, were playing with a lighter when they accidentally set the tires and old farm equipment on site ablaze, said RCMP Cpl. Dave Casey.
With the cause determined, Casey said the primary task now is to address the danger of playing with fire.
“It’s just a matter of speaking with the parents and making sure they understand what they did wrong and the seriousness of putting peoples’ lives at stake there with the firefighters having to fight the fire,” he said.
At around 4 p.m. on Aug. 23, RCMP and the Westlock Fire Department were dispatched to a fire burning on the east side of Range Road 263, north of Highway 18. When they arrived on scene, a pile of old tires and farm equipment was burning, sending massive clouds of black smoke into the air, said Westlock Fire Chief Stuart Koflick.
Due to the size, type and location of the blaze, the town called in assistance from the county fire departments, he said. In total, there were five pieces of firefighting equipment on scene, as well as 15 firefighters.
Koflick said the county department was called to transport water from a hydrant offsite to the fire because there were no hydrants close enough to the site to provide a constant source.
In addition, the county also provided its rapid response unit — essentially a pumper-tanker in a pick up truck — to get water to areas of the fire that were not as accessible, he said.
Although the firefighters were able to keep the fire under control as they knocked it down, Koflick said the situation was still dangerous.
“I wouldn’t say it looked worse than it was,” he said. “It was certainly a precarious situation. With the wind that day, it certainly could have been worse.”
In fact, he said the weather and plant conditions on site helped contain the fire because there was a lot of green plant matter, as opposed to the drier conditions that are found during spring and fall.
The problem with tire fires, he said, is that the fire can get deep into the pile and smoulder and be hard to extinguish. Furthermore, due to the chemicals in the rubber, the large amount of smoke that is produced can be very toxic.
All told, firefighters were on scene until almost 8:30 p.m., Koflick said, and they were back on scene on Aug. 24 to make sure the fire was completely out.
“We were back there (Wednesday) for about an hour to mop up some hot spots that were causing us a little bit of grief,” he said.
The RCMP and fire departments want to remind people not to come to the scene of a fire to see it for themselves.
Casey said that although the fire was “spectacular,” it’s not safe for members of the public to come to the scene while the fire is still burning, because there is no telling what might actually be burning.
“We don’t need to add to injuries or anything else if something had exploded in there that nobody knew was in there,” he said.
In addition, he said the additional cars along the side of the road could interfere with the movement of the fire trucks, and hamper efforts to put out the fire.