HALIFAX — A major munitions depot in Halifax is at high risk of a " catastrophic'' fire that could kill military personnel, destroy millions of dollars worth of ammunition and cause "severe environmental damage,'' according to a newly released assessment of the facility.
The report by the Canadian Forces fire marshal found that a fire at the depot, which houses most of the weaponry for the region's naval vessels and bases, was "likely'' — with the risk of a fire being deemed high.
Immediate steps necessary
It said immediate steps were needed to reduce the chances of a fire at the Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot, which occupies the northern shoreline of the Bedford Basin and also has a missile maintenance facility and loading jetty.
The review was requested by the commander of CFB Halifax and completed in June 2015, but just recently released to the CBC.
"Considering the potential for loss of millions of dollars in ammunition, the potential net explosive quantity present and the probability of loss of life, the fire effect severity is set at catastrophic,'' reads the document.
A sign at the Canadian Forces Ammunition Depot is seen in Bedford, N.S., on Thursday. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/CP)
The 22-page report found the area around the sprawling complex, which includes ammunition storage magazines, maintenance shops and administrative offices, is heavily forested and not properly maintained, raising the overall risk of a fire.
Some of the magazines are earth-covered bunker-like buildings made of reinforced concrete, with older magazines not equipped with any automatic suppression or detection systems.
It said the area surrounding the depot is made up of hardwood and coniferous trees, which burn very hot, with a "significant amount of dead trees and broken branches lying on the ground ... which increases the fire index and potential for fire spread.''
CFAD Bedford is approximately seven kilometres from downtown Halifax, across the Bedford Basin. pic.twitter.com/3DMToTSxp0
— Brett Ruskin (@Brett_CBC) February 9, 2017
The report said maintenance of the vegetation is limited to grass cutting, with fire break maintenance being non-existent. As a result, it says there is an ongoing risk of brush or forest fires. It added that in 2014, Halifax firefighters reported 20 brush fires in the area right next to the depot.
The review, which examined incidents between 2004 and 2014, also found that many buildings have fire alarm systems, but few have automatic detection. It said there haven't been any major fires at the depot in that period.
The lightning protection and water systems were determined to be inadequate and not maintained as required. It said that because the water storage reservoir and fire pumps are not automated, they have to be activated manually at a pump house. The system also did not increase the water pressure, the report found.
"In order to prevent a lightning strike from inadvertently initiating explosives, it is imperative that the lightning protection system be maintained in optimal condition."
The report says there has been an increase in the number of failures of the lightning protection system, which has been deteriorating for years.
"The issue has been well documented over the years and still has not been addressed,'' the report states. "In order to prevent a lightning strike from inadvertently initiating explosives, it is imperative that the lightning protection system be maintained in optimal condition.''
The report says the identified deficiencies were not compliant with the National Fire Code of Canada and contravened the Canada Labour Code and Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
In order to bring the fire risk down to medium, it recommends controlling vegetation, repairing the lightning protection system and repair the water supply system.
National Defence did not respond to a request for comment.