Peat pile catches fire

The Fort Frances Fire Department responded to a call shortly after noon Wednesday when an official at Normiska Corp. reported flames and smoke emerging from a peat mound alongside McIrvine Road.
Firefighter Rod Davis said the call came in at 12:15 p.m. and that a crew was on the scene applying water within 15 minutes.
Davis said the cause appeared to be spontaneous combustion—despite the heavy rain that had fallen in the area the previous day.
“The stuff [peat] creates its own heat,” he explained.
Firefighter Bob Tkachuk climbed the smoldering mound and applied a continuous stream of water while a Normiska employee carefully broke the material apart with a backhoe.
Tkachuk speculated the fire could have been burning unnoticed for a considerable period of time and the fact it broke out Wednesday was merely coincidental.
“It could have been smoldering for weeks and just broke through today [Wednesday],” he remarked.
Tkachuk said despite all the recent rain, the interior of the pile still could be quite dry. He added such incidents, though not common, do occur from time to time in places where large amounts of peat are stored for long periods.
Fort Frances Fire Chief Steve Richardson said Thursday that McIrvine Road was closed for about an hour while firefighters on the scene made sure there was no danger the fire could pose a threat to traffic or adjacent properties.
He also said the fire department is continuing to investigate the incident.
Chief Richardson added peat piles sometimes are at risk of spontaneous combustion under certain circumstances due to fermentation and contamination by foreign matter.
“If they’re not properly compacted or if there’s other material mixed with them, they can ignite,” he remarked.
Normiska general manager Brian McCowan said Thursday morning the company is conducting its own investigation.
At this time, the cause remains unknown, although McCowan did not rule out the possibility of a lightning strike penetrating the saturated upper area and igniting the dry material deep beneath.
“When we found the source [of the flame], it was down near the bottom,” McCowan noted. “We don’t know what would cause it, but it could have been lightning.
“It’s hard to say what it was, but we are looking into it diligently,” he stressed.
McCowan noted this is only the second incident of a fire at the Normiska site over the last seven years.