Fire official says mechanical failure causing friction, igniting sawdust, caused fire at Western Forest Products' Alberni Pacific Division sawmill in British Columbia; company says official findings will be released when investigation is complete

Wendy Lisney

Wendy Lisney

Nov 30, 2012 – Alberni Valley Times

PORT ALBERNI, British Columbia , November 30, 2012 () – While Western Forest Products is not ready to release the results of their ongoing investigation into last Thursday's fire at the Alberni Pacific Division mill, the Port Alberni Fire Department has concluded that the fire was not due to human error.

"At this point, the cause is being left to a mechanical failure of a piece of equipment," said Randy Thoen, PAFD fire prevention and inspection officer, who was part of the department's two-day inspection of the mill.

The fire occurred in the late evening on Thursday. Firefighters from the Port Alberni, Sproat Lake and Beaver Creek departments teamed up (as part of their mutual aid agreement) to suppress a fire in the bag house portion of the mill, which is part of the dust collection system and affects the planer part of the mill.

That portion is expected to be back up and running before Tuesday.

WFP spokeswoman Makenzie Leine said she will release the official results of the investigation - there are other parties involved including WorkSafe B.C. - when it is completed.

The mechanical failure, according to Thoen, happened when part of the machine began to cause friction, which in turn allowed heat to touch sawdust.

"When you have heat from friction and combine that with dust, you end up with flames," Thoen said.

However, all of the fire protocols at APD worked correctly and, while the mill does not have an organized fire brigade, all mill employees have some form of fire suppression training.
The machine that caused the fire was also equipped with a sprinkler system, which worked properly.

"It wasn't human error at all," Thoen said. "The suppression systems on the machine worked, the fire alarm reacted properly as well as the employees reported it correctly.

"It's just a large piece of equipment with a number of areas that are somewhat difficult to access so it takes a bit of time to chase it all down and put it all out."

When the fire broke out, the sprinkler system alerted the mill's fire alarm, which then alerted APD's monitoring company, which paged the fire department just after 5 p.m.

Had everything not worked the way it did, the fire could have caused significant damage," Thoen said.

"It had the potential, obviously, if things had gotten out of hand it could have been a pretty large [fire], but all the pieces worked the way they should."

The findings of the fire department's investigation came on the same day that WorkSafe BC referred the investigation into the mill fires in both the Prince George and Burns Lake mills to Crown counsel.

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