Workers Could Smell Natural Gas For 2 Days Before Huge Explosion and Fire at Burns Lake Sawmill

The town of Burns Lake is in shock and mourning the death of two members of its tight knit community. The sawmill that exploded and burned to the ground injuring 19 and killing 2 is owned the Burns Lake Native Development Corp. and Portland, Ore. based forest products company Hampton Affiliates.

Wilf Adam, the chief of the Lake Babine Nation, said he has talked to several workers who say they warned of a gas smell for 2 days before the disaster. "The morning shift said that there was a big gas odour coming from the basement, and when the afternoon shift came on, that's when it happened."

90% of the wood the mill had been cutting in the last 3-4 years was timber salvaged from area forests ravaged by the pine beetle. It’s really dry so the dust factor is extremely high. The temprature in Burns Lake that day was -48C and during cold winter weather the mill is more closed in, without fans sucking out the dust. Many Burns Lake residents are speculating that it was gas that caused the explosion. However there have been many demonstrations by firemen showing that dust particles are highly flammable. Probably something sparked the gas which set off a huge dust explosion.

"Many workers said they were under a lot of pressure to keep production at a high pace at the mill, they were being pushed,” chief Adam said.

Workers do have the right under BC's WCB rules to refuse to work under unsafe conditions but the combined pressures of managers trying to meet production goals, having to bring home a paycheck to buy groceries and pay rent plus the that of ones peers under those same pressures is nearly impossble to overcome by any individual. i was in dangerous situations often many years ago when i worked at the pulp mill in Port Mellon. It was incredibly difficult to refuse to keep working no matter how much my gut told me to stop. One night shift we did, 'we' being the operative word because i never could have stood up to the bosses by myself.

There will be an investigation of the Burns Lake disaster but its doubtful that all or any of the psychological causes will enter into the conclusions as to what happened. Hopefully, in the end, after all he tears have been shed, there will be enough fire insurance and enough government assistance for the tiny community to rebuild its broken economic engine. They say 'time heals all wounds', but the broken hearts in Burns Lake will take generations to recover.