Houston Fire Department chief Jim Daigneault said yesterday’s major blaze at Canfor in Houston was the biggest sawmill fire he had witnessed in 14 years as a firefighter.
More than 20 firefighters worked in shifts throughout the night to extinguish the fire, which started at about 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon.
Nobody was injured and all mill staff were safely evacuated to a muster point, where the RCMP conducted a head-count.
Daigneault said the fire was “very, very active” when he arrived.
In his 14 years with the fire department, he said it was the biggest sawmill fire he had seen.
“I was not so much worried, just trying to get everything in my head, get the plan going so you can get fast action to it, to try to limit it to the area that’s burning,” he said.
“You didn’t want it to spread.”
Four of the six burning kilns were filled with drying lumber, adding more fuel to the fire and presenting a difficult task for firefighters.
To reach the wood that was burning inside, the crew had to use loaders to pull the doors off the kilns, and then push the “kiln cars” carrying lumber outside.
Houston RCMP Sergeant Stephen Rose said arson had been ruled out as a cause of the fire.
“We conducted some follow-up with employees that were in and around the area at the time the fire broke out and, as a result, deemed it not to be criminal in nature,” said Sgt. Rose.
The investigation has been handed over to the Houston Fire Department, which hopes to identify what started the fire by tomorrow.
Daigneault said the investigation would rely on interviews with mill staff because the fire had probably destroyed any evidence of what caused it.
“The stuff is destroyed so it’s going to be very difficult to tell exactly what happened at the start point,” he said.
“We’ll do our best, but it will be difficult.”
Although the cause of the fire is still unknown, Canfor Corporation external affairs director Corinne Stavness said in an email that it started in one of the sawmill’s six older kilns, which were built in the 1960s.
She said all of the older kilns were destroyed in the fire, but the mill’s newer kilns, sawmill and planer were unharmed.
“The impact to the operation therefore is limited to the loss of drying capacity for lumber, and we are looking at mitigation options here while we rebuild the kilns on site,” she said.
Only three of the six older kilns were operational at the time of the fire.
She thanked firefighters for responding quickly to the fire.
“The Houston Fire Department responded quickly to our call,” said Stavness.
“The fire was extinguished and we sincerely appreciate their support.
“We also thank our employees who managed the incident with professionalism and kept safety as their first priority, ensuring no injuries to our team.”