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The Globe and Mail

Second victim in B.C. sawmill explosion identified

Firefighters direct water at a large fire burning at the Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George, B.C., on Tuesday April 24, 2012.

ANDREW JOHNSON/The Canadian Press

The B.C. Coroners Service has identified the second man killed in a Prince George sawmill explosion.

Glenn Francis Roche, 46, was working at the mill when it was rocked by the explosion and fire. He was taken by air ambulance to hospital in Edmonton for specialized treatment. However, he died Tuesday night.

Mr. Roche's family declined comment Wednesday morning.

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‪‪‪The explosion and fire occurred Monday evening. Prince George Fire and Rescue was called to the Lakeland sawmill at 9:38 p.m. and found the site engulfed in flames. Workers ran to escape what was described as "a gigantic fireball."

Twenty-four people were taken to hospital. Thirteen have been treated and released. The other deceased was identified as Alan Little, a 43-year-old shift supervisor who a co-worker described as "a down-to-earth person, easy to get along with."

The explosion occurred three months after a similar blast at a sawmill in Burns Lake that also killed two people. All sawmills in the province have now been ordered to review the build-up of sawdust at their operations. WorkSafeBC said inspection officers will be fanning out across the province to ensure that mill operators comply with the order.

WorkSafeBC said it is looking at the accumulation of combustible dust as an issue. No cause has been determined in either of the mill explosions.

Both mills were cutting an abundance of wood harvested from forests ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, which produces a fine, dry sawdust.

At the time of the Burns Lake tragedy, industry veterans said they could not recall a B.C. sawmill blowing up like that before. Now, it has happened twice in relatively short order.

Although experts consider wood affected by the mountain pine beetle to produce dust that is drier and more susceptible to dust explosions than the wetter timber cut by B.C. sawmills, it remains a mystery why these two mills exploded, when pine beetle wood has been cut without incident elsewhere for many years.

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As Lakeland Mills exploded in flames, workers scrambled to help each other and escape. One said he used scissors to cut charred clothing off those whose burned skin was dripping.

Lakeland Mills was acquired by Sinclar Group Forest Products in 1973. The company said it will do whatever is required to help with the investigation. It has not said whether it will rebuild the facility.

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