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Langley condo fire spews insulation and other debris over wide area

Chunks of charred building materials found blocks away from site of Monday fire
Charred material found on the property of a Black Press Media employee at 210th Street and 72nd Avenue, carried from the massive condo fire at 208th Street and 80th Avenue overnight April 19, 2021. (Special to Langley Advance Times)

The impact of Monday night’s condo fire was felt far beyond the community of Willoughby.

Firefighters were dispatched to the area of 208th Street and 80th Avenue around 9:30 p.m. on Monday, where a condo complex under construction had gone up in flames.

Tuesday morning residents in neighbouring communities woke to find debris outside their homes.

“There are reports of ash as far away as Pitt Meadows,” said Andy Hewitson, assistant chief with the Township of Langley fire department.

READ MORE: Willoughby Fire: The aftermath of the inferno in Langley

One resident who lives about one mile away from the fire scene said she woke to find a variety of material in her front yard.

“They were all sorts of different sizes,” said Vivian Gillard. “Insulation, paint from a wall – it was everywhere in our neighbourhood. On the roads, hanging in the tree – looked like a piece of paint hanging from a tree.”

Gillard said she was surprised to see how far the large pieces of material had travelled. The fire was at 208th Street and 80th Avenue. She’s near 210th Street and 72nd Avenue.

So how did the debris travel the distance?

Hewitson says its a result of a phenomenon called thermal plume, a massive amount of heat generated fire.

“As you see with your camp fire the heat carries the smoke and embers upwards until they cool off and loose velocity and either dissipate or fall to the ground,” he explained.

“With fires of this magnitude, much larger particles are moving at a higher velocity and will carry much further. The size of ash and unburned materials is proportionate to the amount of energy released by the fire, and the distance these embers travel is also impacted by prevailing winds.”

READ MORE: Evacuees describe seeing ‘Armageddon’ as embers rained down on Langley homes

The size and intensity of the fire caused the debris to scatter far.

“If you think of the embers like hot air balloons that are launched skywards by the force of the heat plume, then are carried by the winds until they cool off, it will give you an idea of how much energy is released by these incidents,” Hewitson explained.

“For those of us old enough to remember when Mount St. Helen’s erupted, there was ash in the Lower Mainland.”

It was thermal plume that carried those materials to Gillard’s yard and neighbourhood.

“A couple of them when I touched them, they would just fall apart in my hands,” she said. “They were crispy you could say.”

Gillard said to she collected the material and disposed of it.

But Hewitson wants to remind residents to be safe if they discover any material from a fire.

READ MORE: Developer promises burned Langley condos will be rebuilt

“Pick it up with something to avoid touching it with your bare hands,” he said. “Make sure it is not still smouldering, and then dispose of it.”

Crews worked through the night to extinguish the blaze, and remained on scene much of Tuesday dousing hot spots in the rubble.

“There will be a lot of smoke for some time while crews put out hot spots,” Hewitson said.

Gillard said she didn’t recall smelling smoke in her neighbourhood on Tuesday morning, but says it was hazy.

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