West Kelowna  

Still not clear what 'dangerous goods' burned during Friday's Connector truck fire

Concerns over toxic fire

At least one motorist who drove past a truck burning on the Okanagan Connector Friday morning has concerns about what she breathed in, but the provincial government has not provided any answers.

The Penske rental truck caught fire while travelling eastbound on the Okanagan Connector Friday at about 10:30 a.m. Photos from the scene showed a large wall of flames burning across the two eastbound lanes of traffic.

The fire forced the closure of the highway, initially just in the eastbound lanes, but the westbound lanes were soon closed as well. The highway remained closed through the entire day and into the early hours of Saturday morning, reopening at about 3:30 a.m.

Shortly after the closure, Kelowna RCMP spokesperson Ryan Watters said in a press release the truck was “carrying chemicals that ignited,” which made the firefight particularly challenging.

Meredith, a local physician, drove past the fire in the westbound lanes prior to the closure. She says the thick smoke smelled awful and caused her to “cough like crazy.”

She woke Saturday morning with a burning feeling in her chest.

“I'm definitely still feeling kind of a burning, almost like a heartburn feeling,” she said Sunday. “It would just be really, really nice to know what the heck [was burning.] I think people should know what they drove through, because obviously if they shut the highway for that long it must be something bad.”

Castanet has reached out to B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Environment for information about what exactly was burning during Friday's truck fire, what caused the lengthy closure and whether passing motorists should have concerns about what they breathed in.

In an email sent Saturday, Ministry of Environment spokesperson David Karn said West Kelowna Fire Rescue crews didn't bring the fire under control until Friday evening.

Karn said due to the “dangerous goods” the truck was carrying, a one-kilometre “safety zone” was set up around the burning truck. He said an unspecified “specialist” arrived at the scene by 9:30 p.m. Friday, allowing clean-up to proceed through the night.

But while Karn said Saturday that they were looking into Castanet's questions about the material that burned, he has yet to provide any more details.

A statement by the provincial government published online Saturday said the truck and remaining dangerous goods materials were "relocated to a nearby temporary location for analysis and decontamination."

"An assessment of environmental impacts will take place to determine remedial actions needed for the site," the province said.

Meredith, meanwhile, said she remains worried about her lungs.

“I find it so strange that the highway remained closed for so long ... I fear that it must have been something quite dangerous that was burning," she said.

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