Similarities with January explosion at Burns Lake, BC mill
By Markham Hislop
A second worker has died after Monday’s horrific explosion and fire at the Lakeland sawmill in Prince George, BC. The BC Coroners Service says the worker’s identity will not be released until next of kin have been notified.
He was originally taken to University Hospital of Northern BC, and from there was flown by air ambulance to Edmonton for more specialized care. Despite the best efforts of medical staff, he died there early Tuesday evening.
The employee was one of 24 who were working in the sawmill when it exploded and burned just before 10 p.m. Monday.
Another worker, Alan Little, died at the University Hospital of Northern BC in the early morning hours of Tuesday.
According to Northern Health Service representative Steve Rater, six of the workers were in serious condition after the explosion. Injuries included critical burns, minor burns and traumas.
Prince George Mayor Shari Green said the mill tragedy is a very sad day for the city of 71,000 in the interior of BC.
“I feel very much for the Lakeland community, which will pull together to get through this,” said Green during a press conference yesterday. “The families are in our thoughts and prayers. It’s been a long day and will continue to be a long day.”
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. Fire Chief John Lane says the first priority is to determine the safety of the steel superstructure of the mill. As of yesterday, the only spot on the site still smouldering was the western edge of the sawmill where there had been large stacks of wood. After the coroner releases the site, investigators and the RCMP will work to determine the cause.
Lane said the fire was very hot and concentrated, and there were a number of smaller secondary explosions. The PG fire department’s primary concern was to evacuate the injured and contain the fire without putting staff at risk.
WorkSafeBC says it will immediately be issuing orders to all sawmill employers in the province to conduct a full hazard identification, risk assessment, and safety review, with particular focus on combustible dust, dust accumulation, and potential ignition sources.
WorkSafeBC officers will be following up on these orders to confirm that the ordered actions have been taken and sawmills are in compliance with the Workers Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulation in regard to combustible dust and potential safety hazards.
WorkSafeBC says it does not have reasonable legal grounds to order sawmills closed, but will not hesitate to take such action should the circumstances warrant it.
The provincial health and safety organization is under fire to release the results of its investigation into a very similar mill explosion three months ago at the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, BC 230 kilometres west of Prince George. Two people were killed and 19 others injured in the Jan. 20 mill blaze.
“We recognize that there are similarities between the explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George —both are sawmills, dust was present in both, as in all sawmills, and both mills were working with beetle-infested wood,” said Roberta Ellis, Vice President of Corporate Services. “However, we cannot speculate, based on these similarities, as to the cause of these events.”
The Coroners Service has launched an investigation into the two Lakeland mill deaths. The investigation will be undertaken in conjunction with the RCMP, the city of Prince George Fire Service, and WorkSafe BC.
The Coroners Service expressed its condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of both deceased, and also its sympathy to those injured in the blast.
The Coroners Service says additional information will be released as it becomes available.
Category: British Columbia