Blast, Fire Hits Wood Mill

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 @ 02:03 PM gHale

WorkSafeBC launched an investigation into the cause of an explosion and fire at a forest products mill in Quesnel, B.C., Canada.

A team of WorkSafe investigators took over the scene from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Thursday morning, 12 hours after fire tore through a section of the WestPine medium-density fibreboard mill, about 600 kilometers north of Vancouver, said Al Johnson, vice president of prevention services.

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Between eight and 30 workers were on site when the fire broke out at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and all evacuated safely, he said.

“This is a concerning incident to us. We’re very fortunate that there were no injuries,” Johnson said. “Our support goes out to the community as well, because this is people’s livelihoods.”

Quesnel-based West Fraser Mills Ltd. owns WestPine.

Johnson said while it’s too early to speculate on the cause of the fire or explosion, they occurred in an area with four baghouses, or dust collection towers, that ended up either directly or indirectly involved.

“There is wood dust and wood fiber in that area, so that may have been a contributing factor, but we don’t know anything in detail at this point.”

Johnson said the mill had been part of a combustible dust inspection strategy that developed following separate fatal explosions at sawmills in Burns Lake and Prince George in 2012. Four men died and 42 others ended up injured in those incidents.

Medium-density fiber board or MDF facilities are slightly different from sawmills or pellet mills, but they have been part of the “journey and evolution” in the industry to deal with wood dust, Johnson said.

WorkSafeBC has done about 10 inspections of WestPine since 2012 and it demonstrated it had a compliant program for management of combustible wood dust, he said.

“Our focus was on some other facilities throughout the industry that weren’t nearly as evolved as this particular facility was with respect to managing dust,” Johnson said.

Quesnel’s mayor said the explosion and fire badly damaged the side of the mill where raw material, such as sawdust, feeds into the plant

“West Fraser is a good company, they have a very strong safety track record, so I knew they would have their safety systems in place,” said Mayor Bob Simpson.

After speaking to the fire chief, he said it will take time to determine the cause of the fire and where it started.

“There was certainly an explosion outside of the building and the fire they had to fight initially was outside the building, but he indicated that doesn’t mean that’s where it started,” he said. “They won’t know where the original start was until they do a full investigation.”

About 100 people work at WestPine MDF and manufactures plywood-like boards known as medium density fiberboard, used for furniture and other construction.

“West Pine MDF has been a stable part of our forestry complement here in town. Every job they create for us is an important job,” said Simpson.

West Fraser spokeswoman Tara Knight said the company did not have an estimate of when the mill will resume operations.

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