Lakeland Mills workers 'crucial' in getting workers to safety after Monday's sawmill explosion, says Prince George, British Columbia, fire chief; site to be accessible to investigators on Thursday or Friday

PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia , April 25, 2012 () – Prince George Fire Chief John Lane said workers were crucial to getting injured to safety.

"I believe workers pulled and dragged their fellow workers out. Nobody would have survived the intensity of that fire," Lane said.

Fire fighters could not go into the building though their initial concern was the evacuation and treatment of patients, and to ensure everyone was accounted for. Lane said three calls came into dispatch about the fire before Lakeland Mills was mentioned.

He added this was likely caused because of the reflective nature of the flames, reported to shoot up to about 60 meters in the air.

Two trucks responded to Lakeland while a third explored a call of that nature at an apartment building, quickly discovered the fire was actually at the mill. then headed there.

Nineteen firefighters were on duty at the time. It immediately became clear it was a major incident and 18 more were called in. More help was needed, and another 20 were called to the scene.

A triage area was set up for patients.By 11:30 p.m., still fighting to contain the blaze, fire crews had yet to locate five people, however they discovered some were transported to the hospital in private vehicles.

Considering his experience, Lane said his best comparison for the Lakeland Mills fire was the one at PG Pulp around 2006 or 2007. But, though it was comparable size-wise it was not burning with the same intensity. To add to the difficulty, Lane said a great deal of hydraulic oil was burning and small explosions went off during the night.

Though initial expectations were the fire would burn 24 hours, by 3 p.m. Tuesday only stacks of wood were still smouldering in the sorter on the western edge of the mill.

Several areas at the mill were preserved including the Downtown Energy System, the planer mill and sawdust handling system.Going forward, the fire department will work with the RCMP, the coroner's office and WorkSafeBC to ensure the safety of the site.The integrity of the steel superstructure on-site will have to be checked and once the scene is released, the work will begin to determine the cause of the blaze.One question to explore will be whether a fire caused the explosion or vice versa.

They will begin by examining the area of least damage and working inward until the point of origin is discovered. Then, if possible, they will pinpoint the cause of the fire. Lane said they expect to get into the site Thursday or Friday.

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