Drummers from the Bear Lake Drum Group perform at Houston Community Hall on Jan. 21. The group closed with a prayer song for Burns Lake fire victims.

Mill fire shows community ties

Ties between Burns Lake and Houston are showing in the fallout of a Jan. 20 explosion and fire that destroyed Babine Forest Products.

Ties between Burns Lake and Houston are showing in the fallout of a Jan. 20 explosion and fire that destroyed Babine Forest Products.

Eight of Houston’s volunteer fire fighters arrived to help fight the fire with one engine and a command truck.

Most of the sawmill had gone up when they got there at 9 p.m., said Fire Chief Jim Daignault. But after teaming up with the crew from Burns Lake, the firefighters managed to save half a building and the sawmill’s planer from the flames.

Daignault said it was the first time he has seen the Houston department get a call for mutual aid.

When the Houston crew pulled up, the sawmill site looked like a “war zone,” Daignault said.

“You had debris, little pockets of fire, and people running all over the place,” he said. “You hope you don’t see that very often.”

One night after the fire, Burns Lake’s Bear Lake Drum Group played at the Houston Community Hall. The show went ahead as planned, but the drum group changed the set list, asking the audience to join in a prayer for the fire victims.

Rev. Mike McIntyre, pastor at Houston’s Pentecostal Church, also had Burns Lake in his prayers last week. On Wednesday, he visited Burns Lake to help his colleague there, Rev. Henry Washington, and to spend time with families affected by the fire.

“Unfortunately, this is the easiest part,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult for a long time.”

Two men were killed in the explosion, another 19 were badly injured and hundreds are out of work. The Babine Forest Products mill made up 40 per cent of jobs in Burns Lake.

Rev. McIntyre encouraged any Houston residents who know people in Burns Lake to get in touch. In his experience, he said it’s best to guess what people will need and offer some specific help.

Many well-intentioned people shy away in such situations because they’re unsure what to say, he added, but there is no quick-fix in solutions like these.

“Sometimes you don’t even need to do anything—just be there to sit and listen to them and cry with them,” he said. “People really appreciate that at a time like this.”

As of Jan. 27, a CIBC Burns Lake Tragedy Fund had already collected some $30,000 in donations.

CUPE BC has also donated $10,000 to the United Steelworkers Burns Lake Fund.

Donations to the CIBC fund can be made at any CIBC branch or online at the Burns Lake Rotary Club website: rotaryburnslake.org.

The Rotary Club is also organizing a benefit and silent auction that they plan to host on Feb. 4 in Burns Lake.


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