Are pine beetles to blame for fatal B.C. mill explosion?
Published Wednesday, April 25, 2012 10:10PM EDT
A tiny insect that has been devouring trees across British Columbia has emerged as the prime suspect in Monday's devastating explosion at a Prince George sawmill that killed two workers and left nine others in critical condition.
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fatal blast, but lumber industry and union leaders said Wednesday the government needs to take a closer look at the consequences of sawing wood ravaged by mountain pine beetles.
A beetle infestation makes timber very dry and brittle. When milled, the wood leaves behind a fine, highly combustible dust.
"It's basically the challenge of responding to the mountain pine beetle," said John Allen, present of the Council of Forest Industries, which represents more than 50 B.C. sawmills.
"Up until earlier this year, the issue in front of us was how to saw lumber from dead trees. Now we've experienced these two sawmill explosions and fires ... we now have this safety issue on our hands."
Two people died as a result of the blast and fire that ripped through the Lakeland sawmill on Monday night. The B.C. Coroners' Service confirmed Wednesday that Glenn Francis Roche, 46, died in an Edmonton hospital after suffering critical burns.
The explosion also claimed the life of Alan Little, a 43-year-old shift supervisor at the mill. Nine other employees are in serious or critical condition, according to a Tuesday report from the Northern Health Authority.
Twenty-four people were working inside the sawmill when the blast occurred.
Workers at the mill recall staggering through plumes of dark smoke after an explosion sent off an unwieldy fire that smouldered well into Tuesday evening.
"It was just a big boom and fireball, then the place just went up," employee Rod Wood told CTV British Columbia.
Tim Morin, whose father Alan suffered serious injuries in the explosion and remains in critical condition, said he's holding up as best as he can.
"He's bandaged. All of his face is bandaged up, his arms his legs," Morin told CTV News.
Fire Chief John Lane confirmed that the inferno in Prince George has left local millworkers without a workplace.
"It was immediately clear that the sawmill portion of the plant was not salvageable," he told a news conference on Tuesday.
The explosion at Lakeland comes three months after a similar incident decimated Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake, killing two people.
Both incidents prompted Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid to order safety inspections of all sawmills in the province, calling on owners to "inspect from top to bottom…to make sure all steps are being taken to address current safety policy."
Natural gas can be ruled out as the mill didn't have a natural gas feed, Lane told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
About 170 people worked at Lakeland, a facility that included a hot oil energy system for drying lumber. Thus far, there's been no formal commitment from mill owner Sinclar Group Forest Products to rebuild.
Greg Stewart, the president of Sinclar Group, met with millworkers for a private town hall meeting on Tuesday evening. It was the first opportunity for the workers to meet face-to-face with their employer since the explosion.
"They want to know: What was the issue? What caused the explosion and what's going to be done to resolve that?" Stewart told CTV British Columbia after the meeting.
WorkSafeBC, an agency committed to the wellbeing of the province's workers, has launched an investigation into the incident. Equipment has been removed from site for examination and WorkSafeBC intends to order workers to undergo a health review.
With a report from CTV's Vancouver Bureau Chief Sarah Galashan and files from The Canadian Press