A northern British Columbia lumber mill damaged in a deadly explosion last month reopened Monday for a six-week, temporary stint that will see 22 workers return to their jobs, but the facility’s future still remains in doubt.
Two workers were killed and two dozen were injured at the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George on April 23, three months after a similar blast at the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake killed another two workers.
The explosion destroyed Lakeland’s sawmill, but not its planer mill. The workers will process inventory that had already been through the sawmill before the explosion.
Keith Ward, one of the workers who returned Monday, said his colleagues were in good spirits.
“The mood was optimistic for some,” Mr. Ward told reporters outside the mill.
“Overall, the morale was good. People are looking forward to coming back to work and doing what we have to do and getting through this”
The mill employed about 150 people at the time of the explosion. The 22 who returned to work were chosen based on seniority, said Mr. Ward.
WorkSafeBC is investigating the explosion, but the cause is still unknown.
Early speculation around both the Prince George and Burns Lake blasts have focused on dust from pine beetle-infested wood, but investigators have stressed that dust is just one of several factors being looked at.
WorkSafeBC has already issued a directive to every sawmill employer in the province to clean up dust in their operations.
Greg Stewart, of Sinclar Group, which owns the mill, said the company hasn’t yet decided whether to rebuild, although he said several factors weigh in favour of resurrecting the site.
“What I can tell you is that there are a number of conditions that are favourable to a rebuild,” Mr. Stewart said in an interview.
“First and foremost, we believe that we have the best employees in the industry. We have long-term local owners that want to contribute to the local community. And one of the things that we’re very thankful for is that we have a good fibre situation today.”
Mr. Stewart noted the fibre supply distinguishes Prince George from the situation facing Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake. Oregon-based Hampton Affiliates, which owns Babine Forest Products, has already said it can’t rebuild without a guaranteed timber supply.
Alan Little, 43 and Glenn Roche, 46, died in the Prince George explosion.
The victims in Burns Lake were Robert Luggie, 45, and Carl Charlie, 42.