A recycling facility in Port Saint John has received orders to immediately suspend operations following a fire at the plant early Thursday.
First responders were called to the city’s port after a large industrial fire at the American Iron and Metal (AIM) recycling plant.
Port Saint John confirmed in a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, officials learned of a fire at American, Iron and Metal shortly after 1:45 a.m.
Witnesses on social media said they heard explosions coming from the facility.
The fire, which started at roughly 3 a.m., forced Environment Canada to issue special air quality statements due to elevated smoke pollution.
Some schools and businesses were also forced to close.
Premier Blaine Higgs issued a statement late Thursday, calling on AIM to suspend its operations while it undergoes a full investigation.
“As part of that investigation, AIM must submit a preliminary report within 24 hours of the event and a follow-up report within five days of the event,” said Higgs in the statement.
“The investigation will take the time required and be thorough. There will be no consideration of resumption of operations until we have more information about what took place.”
Higgs said people are angry and demand answers.
Officials from Port Saint John echoed the premier’s comments, unequivocally supporting the decision to immediately suspend operations.
“Port Saint John will provide any and all information that the Province requires,” reads a joint statement from CEO Craig Estabrooks and board chair Jack Keir.
“We’ve heard the frustration, disappointment and alarm from our community today. What happened is unacceptable.”
Officials said they are committed to working with the province and key stakeholders to ensure similar incidents don’t happen again.
Accidents an ongoing issue at AIM
American Iron and Metal has regularly received complaints from residents who say operations are not safe.
Two people died on the job after industrial accidents that company president and CEO Herb Black believes couldn’t have been prevented.
Bruce Lagace died in November 2021 after he allegedly climbed out of a truck on the passenger side and was sideswiped by a crane operator.
Darrell Richards, 60, suffered a leg laceration from an accident in June 2022. He later died in hospital.
Government officials, including Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long have consistently called for better safety practices at the facility.
“Enough is enough,” he said in a post on X at the time.
“After two deaths in the last seven months, it’s time for AIM to end its operations in Saint John.”
Speaking to reporters after Richards’s death in 2022, Black said he couldn’t see how either fatality could have been prevented.
He chalked it up to “bad luck.”
“I’ve been in business for 62 years and I’ve never had anyone die until two years ago,” said Black at the time.
“I don’t know how to prevent it at this juncture.”
When asked by reporters at the time who was responsible for safety at AIM, Black said it was out of his hands.
“You have to make a connection with the Lord and ask him,” he said at the time.
“I’m not God. I don’t decide.”
Fire continues to burn, officials say
As of 10 p.m. on Thursday, the fire at American Iron and Metal was still burning.
Higgs said emergency crews would continue to fight the fire until it is fully extinguished.
“The focus at the moment is on getting the fire out and ensuring everyone’s safety,” he said in a statement.
“Firefighters and emergency crews have spent the day doing just that.”
Saint John’s emergency management organization issued a voluntary shelter-in-place order on Thursday for the entire city.
EMO recommends that residents who can smell smoke outside to consider wearing a mask for precautionary measures.
“Residents are asked to remain in their homes,” officials said.
There is no word yet on how the blaze started or if there are any injuries.