THE blaze that destroyed the North Coast Anglers store in downtown Terrace a few months ago didn’t just take out one business, it may have been the final straw to destroy a second store as well.
Kidz Quest, on the corner of Kalum and Greig Ave. near the former tackle store, has had its doors closed ever since the fire, with owners concerned about possible toxic smoke residue deposited on toys and other stock.
Owners Bob and Carmen Bahr have refused to reopen due to their concern about the risk, and have been fighting with their insurance company to get them to recognize damage to their stock.
They say health officials have told them that their product could pose a risk to children.
“We were being told that our product probably isn’t safe,” said Carmen, explaining that they’ve talked to Health Canada, Northern Health, WorkSafeBC, and a few firefighters who were at the scene.
“The general consensus was, your product is probably not safe or needs to be thoroughly washed, however nobody could go on the record,” Carmen said. “So we were left in the position of not having any proof that something is wrong, and yet ethically, choosing ‘do we sell it anyway?’”
The items sold at the store include dress-up clothes, teething toys, baby blankets, as well as puzzles, books and classroom supplies.
“There is such strict regulation on what you can sell to children,” Carmen said. “And we didn’t want to pose any kind of hazard or harm.”
Terrace fire chief John Klie said smoke always leave chemicals behind, but it’s hard to say how much concentration is toxic.
Smoke will get sucked into surrounding buildings through air conditioning and filtering systems, said Klie, and the filters only remove so much.
“[Smoke] will leave a film everywhere,” he said, explaining that the smoke film contains unburned particles of plastic, wood, paper, and any other materials in the fire.
“How toxic that stuff is, I’m not qualified to say,” Klie said. “It’s toxic to varying degrees … you wouldn’t want to leave it not cleaned up.”
UBC medical professor Chris Carlsten said unless there is a visible layer of soot on something, it’s not likely to cause harm.
“There would have to be some visible soot for me to be worried about it,” he said. “What usually happens is that there’s a smell, and the smell is what bothers people, but the smell is not the dangerous part. The dangerous part is the actual particles, the black stuff.”
Carmen and Bob acknowledged there’s no concrete proof of risk, and yet they’re responsible and liable if they choose to reopen according to an e-mail received from Health Canada.
The Canada Consumer Product Safety Act “prohibits the manufacture, import, advertisement or sale of consumer products that pose a danger to human health or safety… the onus is on industry to ensure the safety of consumer products,” read the email from Health Canada.
“We don’t want to take any chances with the health of our customers, nor do we want to put ourselves at risk,” Bob said.
Three weeks after the blaze, the insurance company tested air quality and sampled some of the stock to look at soot. They reported that the risk was not significant enough to be of concern.
Carmen and Bob said that they feel the testing was inadequate, and although there is no visible dust and minimal smell, Carmen says she coughs and loses her voice when she goes into the store.
As a family business, the financial strain of the store’s closure has taken a toll on the family.
“When you’re a mom-n-pop shop … everything that you bring home is reliant on what you do at work,” Carmen said. “This is your only income, and to have it suddenly cut off… it’s overwhelming.”
With what they feel is an inadequate insurance settlement on the table, and with the store having been closed for three months, the possibility of reopening is bleak.
“Once you’ve been closed that long, recovery is pretty much impossible,” Carmen said matter-of-factly.
“We’re on the verge of bankruptcy,” Bob said.
Although they’ve talked to lawyers, no one has been able help, and at this point Carmen said they’re completely worn out.
“We just feel like we are up against a giant,” she said. “You get to the point where you get so tired and worn out and you don’t feel like fighting.”
Kidz Quest remains closed and the Bahrs are working on a third party test to verify if their stock is safe to sell. They will see what happens after that, they said.