More than 100 people gather in Burns Lake, British Columbia, to mark second anniversary of explosion, fire at Babine Forest Products that killed two workers; victim's sister says she has 'mixed feelings' about decision to rebuild sawmill

BURNS LAKE, British Columbia , January 21, 2014 () – More than 100 people gathered in Burns Lake to mark the second anniversary of the sawmill explosion and fire that killed two workers.

Forty-two-year-old Carl Charlie and 45-year-old Robert Luggi died in the inferno that injured 20 others and destroyed the Babine Forest Products mill.

Charlie's sister, Lucy Campbell, was among the mourners at the Wet'-suwet'en Community Hall Monday.

She isn't so sure about the decision to rebuild the mill.

"I have mixed feelings about it," Campbell said. "If it's going to employ a few more workers in our community ... because that's what families rely on here. I just hope it's a safe environment."

Victims' families are still reeling from the recent announcement by the Criminal Justice Branch that no charges will be laid in the January 2012 incident.

The Crown has said the WorkSafe B.C. investigation left significant evidence inadmissible in court because search warrants were not obtained and witnesses were not warned of their charter rights before giving statements.

A WorkSafe B.C. report released last week concluded the explosion was preventable and four charges were recommended, though the Criminal Justice Branch said much of the evidence would have been inadmissible in court.

Investigators found that Babine Forest Products knew it had an inadequate dust-collection system, after a similar explosion and fire in February 2011.

Meanwhile, a coroner's inquest into the deadly blast is under consideration.

It opens up the possibility workers and families of victims could get a quasijudicial examination of the factors that led to the incident.

The decision by Crown not to pursue charges opens the possibility of an inquest now because an inquest cannot be conducted while a prosecution is underway or while it is a possibility.

The final decision rests with B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.

"It's certainly something we are spending a lot of attention on," said northern B.C. regional coroner Donita Kuzma. "I can't give a timeline as to when the announcement is. I would think we would want to do something soon."

The United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at the Burns Lake sawmill, said an inquest could be beneficial as long as jury recommendations are implemented.

Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold said the devastating blast has brought the community closer together and rebuilding the mill is an important step forward for the community.

Premier Christy Clark has appointed deputy minister John Dyble to look into the case, calling the matter urgent.

Portland, Ore.-based Hampton Affiliates owns an 89 per cent stake in the mill, with the Burns Lake Native Development Corp. as a minority owner.

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