'It was a huge monster': Minto's tire fire stirs up vivid memories in Ont. community

'It was a huge monster': Minto's tire fire stirs up vivid memories in Ont. community

Minto's devastating tire fire has hit a little too close to home for one southern Ontario community.  

It's been almost 30 years since a massive tire fire erupted near Hagersville, about 40 kilometres south of Hamilton. But Marie Trainer can still remember the phone call she received from the fire chief when the fire first broke out on a Monday night in February.

"It was a huge monster and they fought it piece by piece," said Trainer, the mayor for the area for 16 years.

The Ontario fire burned 14 million scrap tires and spewed toxic smoke for 17 days. Investigators determined arsonists, using gasoline and a match, started the fire. 

I don't know if we'll ever be able to say it's totally safe. - Marie Trainer, former mayor of Hagersville

"The plume went for miles and it was just tiny little balls of rubber," said Trainer, who was a regional councillor at the time.

That year, Hagersville received international attention. Trainer remembers departments and government officials from around the world offering advice.

Now the village has been offering its own support to communities battling tire fires, including Minto, a village about 50 kilometres east of Fredericton.

"They're asking our firemen, 'How did you do it? What worked? What didn't work?'" she said. "And they're quite willing to pitch in and tell them how." 

The Minto fire started at the TRACC tire recycling yard and has been burning for more than a week now.

'A tourist attraction'

Tire fires are harder to extinguish because they get much hotter, and the shape of the tires allows drafts that feed the flames.

In Hagersville, fire crews tried using water at first to extinguish the flames, and water bombers came in with water from Lake Eerie.

"It all helped but it didn't stop," Trainer said. "It just kept burning. 

Bill Becker/Canadian Press

Eventually, firefighters put the fire out bit by bit with sand.

"The only way we could do it is divide and conquer," she said. "It was exhausting."

The fire cost at least $10 million once firefighting and cleanup costs were tallied. And at least 13 fire departments were called to battle the blaze. 

Jamie Hiller, a spokesperson for the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario, can still remember people lining up to see the fire . 

"Hagersville became a tourist attraction," he said. "Many, many people came down to watch a pile of tires burning." 

Homes forced to evacuate 

There were no injuries in the Ontario tire fire, but people living close to the blaze were forced to leave their homes. 

Eventually, the nearby homes were bought out by the provincial government because they were saturated with smoke,  and people didn't want to live in them anymore. 

Homes have not been evacuated in Minto, but an air and water quality warnings have been issued for the area. 

Harvey Fire Department/Facebook

In the fall of 2002, a new program in Ontario was introduced to regulate tire haulers and recyclers in an effort to cut down on the number and size of tire heaps.

The program also charges a levy of $3 on each new tire. The money collected by the program goes to a non-profit tire recycling and recovery effort run by the province.

A community still at risk 

The tire fire also spewed toxic smoke and spat thousands of litres of runoff oil for more than a week.

Environmental crews did as much as they could to clean up the area. 

But Trainer wonders whether the community is still suffering environmental impacts from the blaze, such as oil from the fire that has seeped into the ground. 

"I don't know if we'll ever be able to say it's totally safe," she said.