Officials from WorkSafe BC are investigating the cause of a fire at the Alberni Pacific Division mill in Port Alberni.
WorkSafe investigators were at the mill on Friday, spokesperson Alley Skinner-Reynolds said. “Our officers are determining if there has been any violation of health and safety regulations and examining the cause of the fire,” Skinner-Reynolds said.
Fires aren’t uncommon at mills. But there is a heightened sensitivity about sawmill fires after workers were killed or injured in explosions at sawmills in Burns Lake and in Prince George this year.
A number of new measures were instituted at mills B.C. wide as a result of those incidents. “We’ll also be looking to see if those measures were adhered to,” Skinner-Reynolds said.
The Port Alberni Fire Department and Western Forest Products are conducting their own investigations as well. “We’re told that staff saw sparks emanating from a fan but we haven’t determined a cause yet,” Port Alberni Fire Chief Tim Pley said.
A mill official confirmed that a planer at the operation is out of service for a week but that the rest of the mill is operational.
On Thursday night, the Port Alberni Fire Department responded to calls about a blaze at APD at 5 p.m. Sproat Lake and Beaver Creek volunteer departments responded as part of an automatic mutual aid page at 5:20 p.m.
The fire was located in the sawdust cyclone, or bag house portion of the mill, Pley said.
Sawdust and woodchips are collected from throughout the mill and deposited via ducting and conveyor belt into the bag house, Pley said. “Fires are hard to get at when they are in there,” he said.
WFP staff stopped the air flow from fanning the flames, cut the power to the area then controlled the blaze before fire fighting personnel arrived.
From there, firefighters spent several hours extinguishing the blaze. They then inspected the ductwork, going through each hatch and dousing the inside with water to drown any glowing embers.
Firefighters remained on the scene for three more hours as a safety precaution, finally leaving the scene at 2 a.m., Pley said.
This is the third incident that firefighters have responded to this year at APD. One incident was a false alarm and another involved a fire started by hot works, Pley said.