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Two mill fires in Western Canada in as many days

MEADOWN LAKE, Sask. (Canadian OH&S News)


MEADOWN LAKE, Sask. (Canadian OH&S News)

A wood products plant in Meadow Lake, Sask. reopened four days after an early morning fire.

The blaze broke out at about 3 a.m. on Jan. 18, inside a bulk storage facility adjacent to the Meadow Lake oriented strand board plant operated by Vernon, British Columbia-based Tolko Industries Ltd., said a news release from the company. Tolko’s emergency team responded immediately and, with assistance from the local fire department, the fire was brought under control within a few hours.

There were no injuries, but an evacuation order was issued after the incident. Even after the scene was cleared by emergency responders, there was still a lot of smoke throughout the mill, the news release said.

“The cause is under investigation, but it has been determined that it is not dust- or explosion-related,” said plant manager Parker Snyder. “Clean-up is underway and we are currently reviewing the situation to determine how mill operations will be impacted.”

Three days after the incident, Tolko reported that most of the clean-up operations have been completed and the facility was ready to reopen.

“Due to the effective functioning of the facility’s fire suppression systems, quick action by our emergency response team and the Meadow Lake Fire Department, there was relatively little damage to the plant and equipment,” Snyder explained. “I would also like to express my thanks to all our employees, particularly to our maintenance and operations crew for their tireless efforts in getting us up and running again.”

Maritza Reilly, communications co-ordinator with Tolko, confirmed that operations at the facility restarted on Jan. 22, adding that there were 18 people on-site at the time of the accident. Tolko directly employs approximately 150 employees at the mill in Meadow Lake and an associated contractor workforce.

Reilly added that the company will not be releasing estimates on damages in accordance with its policies as a privately held company, but said that “the fire was not extensive and… damage was kept to a minimum.”

“The investigation continues around the root cause of the fire and we plan to implement preventative measures as required,” Synder added in another news release on Jan. 24, noting that production in the rest of the mill would continue. “The safety of our employees is our number one priority and as a result, work in the affected area has stopped and will not resume until we are satisfied that it is safe to proceed.”

Maintenance shop and main office destroyed

The mill fire was just one of two recent early morning blazes at mills in western Canada. At about 1 a.m. on Jan. 19, a fire broke out at the Fraserview Cedar Products mill in Surrey, B.C., a lumber remanufacturing operation specializing in cedar fence and gate panel manufacturing. Megan Johnston, a communications officer with WorkSafeBC, said that the fire started in a maintenance shop and spread to the main office building, destroying both. The production area was not affected and there were no injuries, as there were workers present at the time.

Johnston said that the cause of the fire is currently under investigation by Surrey Fire Service officials and WorkSafeBC, although as with the Saskatchewan mill blaze, combustible dust does not appear to have been a factor in the fire.

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