Fire rips through plastics plant in Cobourg causing evacuation

First published: April 25, 2005

Sitting in a green Ford truck on Division Street, taking pictures, a couple watched sadly as a fire raged through a plastics plants where they worked.

“We are watching our dreams go up in smoke,” said the 30ish looking woman, who refused to be identified. “I don’t know what is going to happen.”

The pair were some of the 350 employees who won’t be going to work Tuesday after a massive fire ripped through Horizons Plastics, located in an industrial park in Cobourg’s east end.
No one was hurt, but government officials are monitoring the environmental impact of a major fire that swept through the building starting around 2:30 p.m. Monday causing major damage to a plastics manufacturing plant.

A storage yard adjacent to Horizons Plastics, a major factory in the Northam Industrial Park on the east edge of the small town one-hour east of Toronto, mysteriously caught fire destroying numerous pallets of green and yellow plastic slides used for children’s play centres. One unidentified employee said the slides were waiting to be shipped and worth possibly millions of dollars.

Thick black smoke filled the air with toxic gas causing Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty to declare a state of emergency at around 3:30 p.m., setting into motion the evacuation of a number of homes, two elementary schools – St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Grant Sine Public School – and a nearby day care centre. Children were evacuated by bus to St. Mary’s Secondary School, about 15 minutes northwest of the fire, where the children were safe while they waited for parents to pick them up.

Police moved quickly to ensure the various plants near the fire were properly evacuated. The fire came close to a shift turnover and the adjacent streets were a jammed as employees were leaving and others arriving. Once a head count was done, employers sent workers home immediately.

Meanwhile, fire departments from as far away as Millbrook in the north and Colborne in the east, Port Hope in the west and volunteer departments from Hamilton and Alnwick/Haldimand townships arrived to help. By around 6 p.m., an aerial fire truck from CFB Trenton, specializing in using chemical fire retardant was brought in. Within an hour, it had the fire knocked down and nearly out.

There was some serious concern the fire was going to spread to other plants. The fire was very serious at several points, as black smoke filled the sky and was reported visible as far away as Belleville, located nearly 75-kms east. The intense heat caused the flames to swirl in the sky, at times creating funnels 25 feet into the air, appearing like fiery tornadoes.

Cobourg police, along with Northumberland OPP, did traffic control, but pedestrians gathered in nearby parking lots and fields to watch the fire rage.

Police and volunteers went through the nearby neighbourhood stretching from Elgin Street in the north to the railway tracks and east from Darcy Street, asking people to leave. Most of the people live in a subsidized housing complex locally called the Depot, which was once used as military housing for a major military based in the town.

The Salvation Army Church opened its doors shortly after the state of emergency was called. The Hastings Prince Edward Regiment reserves arrived to set up cots. Food and activities for children were quickly arranged.

The state of emergency was called off around 10 p.m. and people were allowed to return home.

MInistry of Environment officials were onsite. A speical air monitoring truck was brought to the scene under police escort to test the air. It is expected to remain in the airea to do extensive testing.

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