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Dangerous Phosphorous Flare Floats In Toronto Outer Harbour Area

Boat club ramp

Our boat ramps accumulate a lot of bits and pieces that just float in. Logs and bits of plastic make up the bulk of the junk but occasionally more interesting things come in.

For example where do all the coconut come from???! We're in Lake Ontario.

No one thought much of the aluminium cylinder that came in and got fished out along with the usual logs and plastic bottles, and put on the grass waiting to be put into the dumpster.

phosphorous flare

Since I live up to my well deserved nickname of "Curious George", I picked it up and took a look at it. It was not all that heavy and had a half worn off label in French. Since I parlez-vous very well I tried to figure it out.

phosphorous flare label

It was a warning that this was dangerous materials and the police or armed forces should be contacted.

I called 911 and in a few minutes an officer appeared and took a look at the thing. He did not know what it was but was concerned.

police officer and phosphorous flareToronto Harbour water police boat

It did not take long for the Water Police to come in too.

By this time the first police officer had contacted bomb squad and figured out it was phosphorous flare that was not exploded.

We were holding a big event that day and there were quite a lot of people around, he moved it to the outside parking lot away from people and buildings.

emergency task force

The Emergency Task Force Explosive disposal unit arrived along with another police car.

When I asked one of the officer about the flare he said it was a Red Phosphorous flare and was used in search and rescue operations and border patrol to light up the sky. I don't know what the actual use of this flare was or how it got here. They can self ignite when exposed to air and burn at a tremendously hot temperature. They can be very dangerous to be around. Apparently they are used to light up an area if there are suspected smuggler activity. Lake Ontario borders the US.

The plan was likely to be detonation on site. I found this wonderfully exciting but since our skippers meeting was about to start, (It was our official Sail Past and See the Island Race) I went off while Toronto's Finest deliberated and planned.


Fast Forward an hour. We are on the water waiting for the race to start when we heard a small explosion with a small puff of smoke. Then a few minutes later a second explosion with tremendous amount of smoke which lasted for several minutes afterwards.

It looks like the flare was set off on the second attempt. One of the officers has said they might use a "railway detonator" to set off the flare. I found a bunch of yellow and blue wire nearby when I came back on shore later. There was also a large scorched area in the grass where the flare had been moved.

Another member who had just arrived and was in time to see the smoke and later the beat-up left-over cylinder

For me this was an eye opener. We don't think of lake Ontario junk as being particularly dangerous. The worst I've seen has been a gasoline container and various submerged logs.

When I owned my keel boat we were required to carry safety flares such as these: Orion Safety Alerter Coastal Signalling Kit. This gives me more respect for the potential strength of these emergency signaling devices!

Email Christine

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