British Columbia Forest Service concerned fire at Nanaimo rural wood processing plant could spread to nearby private forestland if not quickly controlled

NANAIMO, British Columbia , September 21, 2011 () – It could take weeks to control a large, smouldering wood chip fire at a rural wood processing operation off Doumont Road.

Commuters saw pillars of smoke billowing into the north Nanaimo Tuesday morning.

The fire erupted Monday evening, likely in wood being processed in an old gravel pit beside the Wastelands motocross track on Weigles Road. A crew of five forest service workers were on the scene through much of the night and again Tuesday.

DBL Disposal Services chips waste construction wood and land-clearing debris, then stores the product on site for sale to pulp mills as hog fuel. Once wood chips piled up to eight metres high started burning, firefighters knew it would be difficult to extinguish.

The mass of smouldering embers is contained by an earthen wall where the ground was excavated for an old gravel pit. Still, fire crews worry that the fire may spread into nearby forests, and about health effects from smoke wafting to Nanaimo. Land immediately adjacent is used by hikers and mountain biking enthusiasts.

Investigators suspect the fire was caused by humans. Security guards patrol there nights but are not on site 24 hours.

"There is always the possibility of spontaneous combustion. It's under investigation," said Alan Berry, B.C. Forest Service forest protection technician.

Firefighters hope rain forecast for later this week will help get the smouldering under control.

A similar fire in July took three weeks to put out, affecting productivity for the wood recycling operation, which employs 25 to 30 people.

"We can still work but all our resources are (used) fighting fires," said Norm Jones, of DBL. "Unfortunately you basically need a river to put it out at this point," Berry said.

B.C. Forest Service officers worry about the fire spreading to Vancouver Island University woodlot and private forest lands. "We're just going to maintain a 24-hour presence until we get some substantial precipitation," Berry said. Rain is forecast through Friday.

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