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Investigation of Grain Elevator Explosion and Fire Concluded

(Tuesday, December 2/2003)-- "Mechanical heat from friction" has been ruled the most probable cause of an explosion and fire at the Halifax Grain Elevator this past summer, according to a Fire Cause Summary submitted to the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Service this week.

The report, prepared by investigators from the HRM Fire Service; the provincial Fire Marshall's Office; Human Resource Development Canada (Labour division) and engineering consultants, stated that "most consensus reports (during the investigation) dwelled on the lack of cleaning and maintenance carried out throughout the complex."

"Findings of heat safety sensors on bearings did not work and have not for several years. In general, it did not appear that maintenance and housekeeping duties were priorities. The Halifax Grain Elevators could not supply any maintenance records to equipment. Magnets in the receiving tunnel were not in operation, " the report read.

As the investigation proceeded, investigators focussed on #5 and #6 shippers at the grain elevator.(This is a conveyor belt system that moves grains or wood pellets from the storage area to waiting vessels for transport.)

The report stated that Shipper #5 showed signs of friction at the drum shaft and its external cap. "Excessive heat certainly would have been generated to be an ignition source."

Shipper #6 was also examined. "Due to lack of proper maintenance, the bearing system failed and this elevator was also off-centre. There was damage to the shaft on the drum and bearings. Our findings indicated that this damage certainly would be a major factor in causing an ignition source," the report stated.

"In our opinion, during this inspection, both elevators $5 and #6 should not have been operating to transport combustible products creating an explosive atmosphere," it read.

Investigators stated that electrical could not definitely be ruled out as a possible cause, and due to the humidity at the time of the explosion, static could not be ruled out. However, in the end is was agreed that mechanical heat from friction was the "most probable cause" of the late August explosion and fire, which forced local neighbourhoods to be evacuated.

The document also makes mention of several fire and safety surveys carried out at the grain elevator facilities in recent years. They included:

  • a report by Profession Loss Control Inc., dated December 14, 2000, to Halifax Grain Elevator Limited. There were code deficiencies and deviations noted and they now are to be corrected throughout the plant.
  • a report dated July,1996, prepared by Fenco Shawinigan Engineering (1991), is to be re-visited and code deviations corrected.
  • the latest maintenance program evaluation in January 2001, prepared by SNC Lavalin Incorporated, to the Halifax Grain Elevator Limited is to be re-visited. All recommendations and code deviations are to be completed.

The investigators' report concluded "The Halifax Grain Elevator Limited is willing to operate the facility safely. They will accept all recommendations from all agencies involved with this investigation."

It also stated that Halifax Grain Elevators Limited has adopted a continual maintenance system and that safety issues are being adhered to.


Deputy Chief Bruce Burrell
Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Service
(902) 4430-3772

John Blandin
HRF&ES Media Relations Officer
(902) 430-3884

Above content last modified Thursday, November 02, 2023 at 11:40am.