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Why you sometimes see 'flare-ups' in Prince George

Unexpected regional power outage caused large chemical release at Husky Refinery
Fire Sept. 11, 2019
There appears to be a large fire looking east from the top of University Blvd. in Prince George (via Jess Fedigan)

We can now explain why Prince George residents saw a large ball of orange smoke east of the city during last night’s (Sept. 11) massive power outage.

Around 9 p.m., B.C. Hydro reported over 100,000 of its customers in the region were without power due to a transmission circuit failure, later reporting a suspected lightning strike caused the blackout.

During this time, residents had noticed what appeared to be a large flare-up coming from the area where Prince George’s Husky Refinery stands.

Husky headquarters in Calgary has told PrinceGeorgeMatters the process of how this can easily be mistaken for fire smoke.

“The power outage Wednesday night caused all of the refinery units to shut down, which requires the safe de-pressurizing of equipment,” said Husky Energy spokesperson Kim Guttormson.

She goes on to explain what people saw last night was a release of hydrocarbons through a process known as venting stack burns.

These are usually planned occasions with very light amounts of hydrocarbons being safely flared into the atmosphere.

However, Wednesday’s outage led to a different result.

“When a shutdown happens suddenly (compared to a planned shutdown), a greater amount of light hydrocarbons are released, which leads to a larger flare,” said Guttormson. “In these cases, there is often a smokier flare as steam, which is normally applied to the flare, isn’t available.”

The City of Prince George confirmed there were no nearby fires linked to the outage.

Canfor also told PrinceGeorgeMatters last night there were no fire-related threats to its local mills.

Power was fully restored before the clock struck midnight on Wednesday in northern B.C.