The City of Fernie said in a media release residents evacuated earlier this week were allowed to settle into their homes this afternoon as the focus at Fernie Memorial Arena now turns to the clean-up process and ongoing investigation.
“The ammonia specialists from Teck’s Trail Operations and Agrium in Calgary have returned home as there is no longer an ammonia hazard at the arena,” explains Fire Chief Ted Ruiter.
“During the emergency response, it was determined that the brine within the arena has become contaminated and will need to be completely removed.” The brine, which is essentially a salt-water solution, is used in the ice making process and once it has been extracted, will be taken to a hazardous waste company for safe disposal.
The City said although there is no longer an emergency situation, hazardous material company RAM Environmental and air quality monitoring specialist GHD will remain on site to assist with the clean-up. In addition, refrigeration experts, WorkSafe BC, the BC Technical Safety Authority and RCMP will remain on scene as they continue with their investigation.
Following consultation between the Fire Chief, RAM Environmental, Interior Health and the Medical Health Officer, and a review of the lab results from samples taken Friday night, it was determined there was no longer a safety risk in the arena. The evacuation order was rescinded earlier this morning; however, the arena and Community Centre will remain closed to the public. Seven homes in the evacuation area were without power when the evacuation order was rescinded.
BC Hydro is restoring power and the City is continuing to work directly with the affected residents.
“There have been many times this week where words just don’t seem to be enough,” says City of Fernie CAO Norm McInnis.
“The City of Fernie would like to thank the residents who were evacuated from their homes for their patience and cooperation. We also owe our sincere gratitude to all the technical experts and responders who have worked tirelessly to help us get to where we are today, including the teams from Teck and Agrium who offered their services free of charge. We also acknowledge the many Fernie businesses and individuals who have offered support, provided donations to evacuees, dropped off meals, and done whatever they could to support our community in a time of such need.”
While the City closed Friday, McInnis confirmed municipal operations will resume on Monday. “Our staff have shown tremendous strength throughout this difficult time. While we are all doing our best, we are asking for the public’s understanding over the coming days and weeks as there will be some interruptions in service as we move forward,” adds McInnis.
Although operations are resuming, the City is continuing to offer support to its employees and the families of the three men who passed away as a result of the ammonia leak last Tuesday.
A community memorial is being planned in cooperation with all three families and details will be announced as soon as they are finalized.
Ice rink in Fernie still under evacuation order
In a media release Saturday, the City of Fernie said work continues today to stabilize conditions at Fernie Memorial Arena to allow for safe access to the facility following Tuesday’s ammonia leak.
The City said the Emergency Response Team which now includes resources from Teck’s Trail office, Agrium out of Calgary, RAM Environmental Response of Kelowna, GHD from Calgary and a number of other agencies are working together around the clock.
“It’s really important to understand the magnitude of this process and safety remains our number one concern. While we continue to make progress, every step along the way must be done precisely which takes time,” says Chief Ted Ruiter.
Two men from Fernie and one from Alberta died last Tuesday and authorities are trying to piece together a timeline leading up to the deaths.
Wayne Hornquist, 59, and Lloyd Smith, 52, worked for the City of Fernie while 46-year-old Jason Podloski worked for refrigeration company CIMCO.
“(Friday) night we were able to obtain some of the samples required by the hazardous materials experts and send them off for testing," Ruiter said.
"We are now awaiting the results of those tests.”
The evacuation order remains in effect.
“We ask for everyone’s continued patience and want to assure evacuee’s that getting them home safely as quickly as possible remains a top priority,” said Ruiter.
Emergency Social Services have ongoing communication with evacuees and the Reception Centre located at the Senior Citizens Drop-In Centre (562 3rd Avenue). remains open for evacuees requiring support or further information.
Specialists from the Provincial Disaster Psychosocial Program have arrived in Fernie to offer services to anyone in our community who feels they need assistance to help deal with grief and stress. This free service is available by calling 250-489-9677.
The information line with a recorded message remains available at 1-855-346-2188 and the City will continue to provide updates.