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Fire at G3 grain terminal in North Vancouver under investigation

Conveyer equipment likely overheated during maintenance work at the terminal on the North Van waterfront
A fire broke out in the G3 grain terminal’s transfer tower in the early hours of Friday morning, May 10. | Charandeep Parhar

A fire which broke out at the G3 grain terminal in North Vancouver early Friday morning appears to have been caused by a piece of equipment that overheated during maintenance work at the terminal.

Firefighters from both the City of North Vancouver and District of North Vancouver responded to an alarm at the port terminal between 1:30 and  2 a.m. early Friday morning.

Deputy Fire Chief Andrew Payne with the North Vancouver City Fire Department said smoke and flames were visible coming from a transfer tower in the middle of the terminal when fire crews arrived on scene.

“It was a fairly significant fire,” said Fire Chief Greg Schalk, but was luckily contained within the transfer tower.

Employees who had been working on the equipment evacuated without incident.

Peter Chura, spokesman for the G3 terminal, said the fire was quickly contained and “the facility has resumed normal operations.”

The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, but appears to have started when a belt or bearing in a conveyer system overheated during maintenance work, said Schalk.

Luckily other conveyers at the terminal had been shut down as part of the maintenance work, meaning there was no risk of the fire being inadvertently carried to other areas.

Douglas Lea-Smith, president of the Grain Workers Union local 333, said any fire at a grain terminal is worrying.

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “If an explosion occurs at one of these terminals it’s devastating.” Members of the union’s safety committee are now involved in the investigation about what caused the fire.

Lea-Smith added he worries that the increasingly automated nature of work at the grain terminals leaves too much room for error.

One thing Lea-Smith said the union would like to see are more federal inspections of port grain terminals.

“The federal government needs to have inspectors on site on a regular basis, which they do not,” he said.

The G3 terminal is one of the largest and newest grain handling terminals on the North Shore.

It isn’t the first time the union has raised concerns about safety issues at North Shore grain terminals in recent history.

Last year the union sounded the alarm over concerns that overheating grain silos in North Vancouver are at risk of a potentially catastrophic fire and explosion.

In April 2023, residents along the waterfront in North Vancouver began noticing an odd smell in the air, which Metro Vancouver air quality investigators tracked down to an “overheating bin” at Cargill’s terminal on Low Level Road.

Unless it is moved frequently, grain inside a silo naturally begins to decompose, which causes it to produce heat as a byproduct – enough that the grain may start to smoulder and eventually combust.

Five decades ago, five workers were killed following a fire and explosion at the Burrard Terminal, where Richardson International’s grain silos are today on the North Shore waterfront.

In that case, a fire on a conveyor belt ignited grain dust, which sent concrete and embers falling into the nearby Moodyville neighbourhood.