Alberni sawmill expected to reopen this week after fire

March 6, 2015

By: The Working Forest Staff

Operations at the Western Forest Products sawmill in Port Alberni, which came to a halt because of a fire Tuesday night, are expected to resume later this week.

No timeline has been set, but the company was developing plans Wednesday for work to safely resume in the portions of the mill not affected by the fire, said company spokeswoman Amy Spencer.

She said the company did not expect the shutdown to last much beyond today.

Spencer could not say where or how the fire started. “We can’t release those details until the investigation is complete, although there was a lot of speculation that it was in the head rig area.”

A head rig is the saw that makes the initial cuts in a log at a sawmill.

Firefighters were called to the Alberni Pacific Division sawmill about 4:34 p.m. Tuesday, after the Harbour Road facility’s fire alarms sounded. About 50 workers stood outside the evacuated building, watching smoke emerge. No injuries were reported.

The incident drew the combined efforts of more than 30 firefighters, including members from the Sproat Lake and Beaver Creek volunteer fire departments and more than a dozen members of the Port Alberni Fire Department.

“We emptied our hall, everything except the 1928 Chev,” said Port Alberni Fire Chief Tim Pley.

While operations were on hold at the mill Wednesday, the fire department, Western Forest Products and WorkSafe B.C. investigated the cause of the fire.

“Most of the fire appeared to be in an exterior wall, which was made up of two-by-six wood construction clad with plywood,” said Scott McCloy, director of WorkSafe media relations. “We haven’t come to any findings at this point. We’re still struggling to get into the structure because of the extensiveness of the fire.”

In November 2012, a blaze broke out at the mill and the Port Alberni Fire Department later determined it began when a mechanical failure caused friction heat to come into contact with sawdust.

Pley said sawdust did not appear to be the cause of Tuesday’s fire.

The Alberni sawmill was part of a province-wide WorkSafe investigation last spring due to a substandard accumulation of combustible dust in work areas. Repeat visits from WorkSafe officers led to compliance. “We’ve been very pleased with the response from the wood manufacturing industry, particularly in sawmills,” said McCloy, noting that WorkSafe will closely monitor safety at the mill as the facility recovers from the fire. “There’s going to be ongoing compliance issues related to safety.”

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