Huge fire likely 'completely destroyed' section of New Westminster's Pier Park: mayor

Massive fire engulfs New Westminster's Pier Park

A massive, four-alarm fire at New Westminster’s Pier Park continued to fill the air with smoke on Monday morning after breaking out the night before.

Mayor Jonathan Cote took to Twitter, calling the fire “devastating.”

Three schools in the area — Qayqayt Elementary, Queen Elizabeth Elementary and Queensborough Middle School — have been closed and parents are being asked to keep kids at home.

Fire Chief Tim Armstrong told Global News they received a call around 8 p.m. about a brush fire that had started along Front Street near the SkyTrain bridge.

“Upon arrival, crews saw had gotten into the decking on the old creosote wharf,” Armstrong said, “and quickly spread through the wharf… about 600 to 800 feet of waterfront fully involved.”

The fire began spreading west from there, he said.

It was too dangerous to put crews on the wharf, he added, and they needed some tugs and a Vancouver fireboat to get at the fire burning beneath the pier.

“The biggest thing is access… is the only way to fight it. We’ve got creosote pilings with creosote decking. You’ve got asphalt on top of that. Then you’ve got sand for the volleyball pits on top of that. So it’s free burning underneath there, probably 200, 250 feet,” Armstrong said.

Crews had the fire somewhat under control by about 11 p.m., but the fire chief said crews would remain on scene overnight, and would likely spend much of Monday continuing to deal with hot spots.

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“We’ve got an excavator coming in right now to punch holes into the decking. And that’s when we can get some access to the fire.”

Still no word yet on what caused the fire, and no one was hurt.

Armstrong cautioned that toxic fumes from the creosote could pose some health risk to the public, and advised people to stay clear.

Hundreds of onlookers watched as flames and smoke roared into the sky on Sunday night.

Among them was city councillor Chuck Puchmayr, who said the city called in assistance from Vancouver, Coquitlam, Richmond and Delta.

The Pier Park is a 600-metre boardwalk along a stretch of reclaimed waterfront between the Fraser River and Front Street. It was built in 2009 at a cost of about $24 million, according to Puchmayr.

“(It was) just literally spreading and then taking over the top part, which is landscaped with a lawn, volleyball court and basketball courts,” he told Global News. “It’s quite an amazing structure… It was quite an amazing structure.”

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The well-known WOW Westminster sculpture created by Brazilian artist José Resende, which consists of four shipping containers in the shape of a “W”, appeared to have been caught up in the fire.

“It represents New Westminster and the workers that are here in this part of the country,” former New Westminster mayor Wayne Wright told Global News.

Koula Papakyriakopoulos owns the Taverna Greka restaurant on nearby Columbia Street, and said the fire didn’t appear serious at first.

“We saw the fire trucks here, but didn’t see a fire for a while, and then all of a sudden the W was in flames, it was quite terrifying,” she said.

The loss of the park will have a significant impact on businesses and residents of the area, she added.

“The city has done a wonderful job restoring it, making it look wonderful, people go down there they play volleyball, kids go out and play in the park,” she said.

“People from the park will come up to the restaurant and have dinner, so it’s sad that part of the park is lost.”

Front Street was closed to traffic while crews battled the fire, as was SkyTrain service between Columbia and Scott Road stations.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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