A pile of construction debris at Radium Resort caught fire early last week, sending smoke and odour through Radium Hot Springs and sparking a wave of social media attention.

On Monday, February 22nd at the Radium Course, two brush piles were being burned as part of our annual clean up. All necessary approvals, permits and notifications were in place. Unfortunately, the fire spread to materials from the recent demolition of the Radium Resort Hotel, Radium Resort Limited Partnership managing director Gary Goetsch told The Pioneer on Friday, February 26th. Over the past four days, heavy equipment and water trucks have been working to extinguish the residual fire. The fire and resulting smoke will be eliminated soon.

Ministry of Environment spokesperson David Karn confirmed late on Sunday, February 28th that the ministry was aware of the burning waste debris pile, noting the ministry had ordered the resort to extinguish the fire on Wednesday, February 24th.

Local conservation officers attended the scene after being notified of the incident early on February 24th, Conservation Office Sergeant Lawrence Umsonst told The Pioneer on Thursday, February 25th.

We have been on site investigating since that time, said Mr. Umsonst, adding that the Ministry of Environment had previously advised the resort that the pile of demolition waste, which had been siting on the property for about a year, was in violation of the provincial Environment Management Act.

This type of waste should be disposed of at an authorized waste facility, he said. That wasn’t done and now it has caught fire.

The Pioneer obtained a Ministry of Environment warning letter sent to Radium Resort owners on December 17th, 2015, explaining that the Conservation Office Service and the ministry’s environmental protection division had been notified by public complaint in February 2015 that demolish (demolition) waste originating from the Radium Resort was being prepared for burial on the resort property. Both the Conservation Officer Service and the environmental protection division had advised Mr. Steve Kuffler from Radium Resort that the demolition waste material is considered municipal waste and must be disposed at an authorized solid waste disposal facility.

The December 17th letter stated that there will not be legal charges, but that there could be an escalating response if the pile was not dealt with. In conclusion, the letter requested that the resort owners immediately implement the necessary actions to address the unauthorized discharge and notify the ministry within 30 days of when corrective measures were taken.

The Conservation Office Service will continue its investigation into the storage of the waste and the ignition of the fire, said Mr. Umsonst, adding that, although he was not certain what type of materials were burning in the fire, they are prohibited materials that are not allowed to be burned. Mr. Umsonst said the fire was fairly large and said rough estimates pegged its size at 45 metre long, 25 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep.

On Friday, February 26th, Interior Health issued an air quality advisory for Radium due to the fire, which stated that while the risk at the time appeared to be low, residents were still advised to reduce their exposure to the fire (by moving to cleaner air or staying indoors) if they experience irritation of eyes, nose or throat, shortness of breath or other respiratory symptoms, and to use common sense regarding outdoor physical activity.

The advisory also stated that people with asthma, chronic illness, heart or lung conditions may be more sensitive to the effects of smoke and should watch for any change in symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure. If any symptoms are present, affected individuals should take steps to reduce their exposure to smoke and, if necessary, see their physicians. Those who develop emergency health needs should contact 911.

Efforts to extinguish the fire continued Friday (February 26th). The resort brought in a second water truck that morning, and further equipment to break apart the fire is being brought in, said Mr. Karn. The fire cannot be extinguished in the same manner as a structural fire. The smouldering piles need to be pulled a part in pieces so that water can be applied in sections and this will take time.

Mr. Karn added that he Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) had confirmed that substantial efforts were being made to extinguish the fire, and that the fire was approximately 80 per cent contained (as of Friday, February 26th) and would be extinguished within the next few days. It is expected that smoke from the fire could linger in the area after the fire is extinguished, and ministry staff are working with Interior Health to address public health impacts and assistance to affected residents, he said.

It would be premature to discuss penalties (for the resort) as this an open Conservation Office Service investigation, Mr. Karn added.

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald expressed frustration that incident even happened at all, pointing out that his office had been aware of the pile of waste debris which should have been properly cleared away after constituents expressed concern about it almost a year ago.

Regulations should have been followed from the start, but they were ignored and this is the result hazardous materials are burning at a time of year when (according to the fire index) no burning should occur, said Mr. Macdonald. It’s a dramatic case of environmental damage being caused by regulations not being followed.

Mr. Macdonald added that he and his staff have been consistently trying to get the issue of the debris pile addressed since they first became aware of it.

We’ve been dealing with Ministry of Environment staff since then. It’s been an ongoing file, and quite a frustrating one, he said. What the ministry does should produce results, proper ones. This (the pile catching fire) is not the result that should be happening. It’s been a year.

The overarching issue is a lack of funding for the ministry, according to Mr. Macdonald.

There aren’t enough people to do the job. It puts the Ministry of Environment staff in a tight spot, he said. It makes it even more frustrating in the sense that this should never have happened.

According to Mr. Goetch, the resort would help as much as possible to deal with the situation, saying during these challenging times, we will support anybody affected to the best of our ability. We would also like to thank all the local and provincial bodies who have been working so closely in conjunction with us. Their involvement has been invaluable.

Mr. Macdonald said his office had been receiving complaints from constituents about the fire and smoke since the pile began burning.