Mill inspections ordered after new explosion

Two sawmill explosions in four months have put focus on the hazards of processing dry beetle-killed logs in B.C. Interior sawmills.

Fire rages after explosion at Lakeland Mills sawmill rocked Prince George Monday evening.

Fire rages after explosion at Lakeland Mills sawmill rocked Prince George Monday evening.

WorkSafeBC has ordered inspections of all B.C. sawmills after a second catastrophic explosion in four months has put the focus on the hazards of processing dry beetle-killed logs in B.C. Interior sawmills.

Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said the order went out Tuesday morning, as firefighters were still dealing with the fire following Monday evening’s mill explosion in Prince George.

“There is a common factor here, and we’re all aware of it, and it’s sawdust,” MacDiarmid said. “So although we don’t know what caused the initial fires or explosions, we know that sawdust may be a factor.”

MacDiarmid said WorkSafeBC does not have a specific policy for dust control in mills. A meeting is being convened Wednesday with government, WorkSafeBC, industry and union representatives to determine their next steps.

The B.C. Coroners Service confirmed one of 25 mill employees on site died after an explosion rocked the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George Monday evening. The explosion and fire occurred suddenly on night shift, similar to the Jan. 20 explosion at the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake that killed two workers and destroyed the mill.

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson called for an investigation of hazards for all B.C. mills that process dry logs from the mountain pine beetle infestation. He said mills have already added saw guards and nets to protect employees from logs that break apart when they hit a saw blade.

Simpson said there are anecdotal reports of combustion of fine dust and volatile powdered resin from the wood, much of which has been dead standing for several years. He cautioned that there is no indication yet what caused either fire, but fibreboard mills deal with a similar dust hazard.

“What I would say is that the WorkSafeBC investigation that’s finished in Burns Lake, if they can tell us anything about whether or not this is a possibility, all of our sawmills in the mountain pine beetle area must be given that heads-up and must look at changes in their system to deal with it,” Simpson said.

The Lakeland mill’s primary products are premium grade, precision end-trimmed kiln dried 2×4 studs, as well as 2×6 and 2×3 studs, and 1×3 and 1×4 board stock. Byproducts include wood chips and hog fuel.

Lakeland has two partnerships to supply bioenergy fibre for the Prince George District Energy System and the University of Northern B.C. gasification system.

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