PRINCE GEORGE, BC - A huge explosion and fire at the Lakeland Mills sawmill Monday night claimed the lives of two workers and injured 22 more.
The cause of the explosion that destroyed the sawmill will be investigated, including the possibility that combustible wood dust accumulations fuled the blast. It was reminiscent of the deadly sawmill explosion and fire that occurred Jan. 20 at Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, BC. That accident also killed two workers and injured 22 others.
According to CBC News, the blast occurred at approximately 9:30 p.m.when 24 people were working in the mill, 16 were working in a nearby planer mill and four more were in the lumberyard.
One of the workers, identified as the shift supervisor, died at a hospital early the next morning. The second employee died from his injuries at a hospital in Edmonton where he had been transported for specialized treatment.
Several other workers reportedly remained hospitalized for burns and other injuries. Workers were credited with helping drag injured colleagues out of the burning building. According to news reports, debris from the building was found a quarter of a mile away.
WorkSafeBC will conduct the investigation of the Lakeland Mills explosion, including seeking to determine whether combustile dust created from the milling of mountain pine beetle-infested logs played a role in the blast. The infestation caused the wood to be exceptionally dry.
The provincial safety agency last week concluded phase one of its probe at Babine Forest Products. While no preliminary reports have been released, Roberta Ellis, vice president of corporate services for WorkSafeBC, said, “Investigators continue to examine fuel sources including combustible sawdust and gas as well as potential ignition sources.”
In the wake of the second sawmill tragedy in three months, WorkSafeBC said it will immediately issue orders to all sawmill employers in British Columbia to conduct a full hazard identification, risk assessment, and safety review, with particular focus on combustible dust; dust accumulation; and potential ignition sources.
“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," Ellis said. “However, we cannot speculate, based on these similarities, as to the cause of these events.”
Note: The accompanying video was taken by Brent Braaten, Citizen photographer.