A fire inside a building at Western Forest Products’ Somass Mill drew firefighting crews from Port Alberni, Sproat Lake and Beaver Creek on Friday morning.
The Port Alberni Fire Department responded to a 911 call about a fire at the mill shortly after 9:30 a.m.
“Mill staff told us there there embers in the system that is located around what they call the head rig,” fire chief Tim Pley said. “The embers were sparked by equipment failure and not human error.”
Pley described the apparatus as a pipe that runs through the mill with an air flow system that inhales dust, sawdust and hog and deposits it in a bin located at the rear of the mill where it is then trucked away.
The system is vast, enclosed and has the potential to be extremely combustible so staff shut down the machine and evacuated the mill, Pley said.
Fire and mill staff checked each hatch along the pipe for fire but found none. Officials also took the precaution of calling a truck loaded with sawdust that left the mill before the spark but the load was safe, Pley said.
The area was declared safe and mill operations were returned to normal just after 11 a.m.
The fire at the mill is the second in four months.
In April, a fire in an edger caused a two-alarm fire and response by three of the Valley’s fire departments. The blaze was quickly brought under control and no injuries were reported.
It’s better to err on the side of caution in such incidents, Pley said. A similar alarm at the Somass Mill approximately five years ago resulted in a large fire and injuries, he said.
“We recently lost two other mills in B.C. where dust explosions were a contributing factor. These things can flare and spread so fast,” Pley said.