Print Edition: February 1, 2012
Students at UFV’s Abbotsford campus found themselves in the dark without power on Saturday morning when the Chilliwack Atchelitz BC Hydro substation at 6155 Lickman Road reportedly experienced an explosion followed by a fire. Classes were cancelled, and power through much of the townships of Abbotsford and Chilliwack was lost for the majority of the late morning.
The exact cause of the explosion remains undetermined. The flames quickly spread to a storage tank containing approximately 100,000 litres of oil. Soon the surrounding area was engulfed in black smoke plumes, which drifted high into the sky.
BC Hydro quickly issued a public warning for those nearby to stay indoors, to close windows, and to not use their furnaces.
BC Hydro has not been able to determine the full extent of the toxicity from the plumes from the oil, and from the burning of the substation itself. They do admit that some chemicals will have been released into the air as a result of the fire.
David Lebeter, BC Hydro vice president, advised those with breathing problems to seek medical advice. “My response would be to treat it as any other smoke from any other kind of fire. Try not to breathe it. If you did inhale and felt tightness in your chest, I would go to the doctor,” he said.
Power was restored around noon after a frantic morning-long battle with the blaze by local firefighters. Many local creature comforts were shut off as a result of the blaze. Residents nearby found themselves without water to drink or bathe, and without electricity to light and heat their homes. Local farmers also found it difficult to cope with the loss of power.
Many residents of the Fraser Valley have been quick to criticize BC Hydro for their dedicated commitment to their new Smart Meter program that will cost taxpayers around $1 billion to change the analog electricity meters on every home and business in the province to digital wireless ones. Taxpayers have complained that funding should be being allocated to upgrading substations to ensure accidents such as this do not occur in the future.
BC Hydro has commented that thankfully nobody was killed, hurt, or injured in the fire, but that several employees have been taken to the hospital just as a precaution. “None of the employees have been injured. Everybody is accounted for, and everybody’s safe,” Lebeter said.
The fire is contained for now, however there is some speculation by BC Hydro and Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service that the remaining oil could still reignite. There is no word yet on environmental damage, but an investigation has been launched.