Flare-ups continue at Tolko’s Williams Lake mill

Flare-ups continue at Tolko sawmill in Williams Lake Monday, but employees working at the planer

Flare-ups have kept firefighting crews and Tolko busy at Tolko’s Lakeview Division in Williams Lake where a fire broke out in the sawmill at about 6:20 p.m. last Thursday.

“It appears the fire is hiding in the ceiling a bit, and that’s what we are dealing with,” said communications advisor Janice Lockyer said Monday from Tolko’s corporate office in Vernon.

Lockyer said the fire has mostly impacted saw filer and general sawmill offices.

The Williams Lake Fire Dept. were on scene off and on throughout the weekend, with assistance from the 150 Mile Volunteer Fire Dept. from 9 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday.

Deputy fire chief Rob Warnock said his crews were there for 25 hours straight from 6:36 p.m. Thursday and then back late Friday, Saturday for about 10 hours and again Sunday evening for a few hours.

“Tolko had employees monitoring and they had their own equipment so they could get in and rip the siding and plywood off so we could get our equipment and manpower into the mill,” Warnock said. “There is plywood up against the tin roof and if there is dust inside that is what keeps catching on fire.”

Warnock said Tolko will be taking the roof off and the offices out and that will help.

“Ours was mainly a lot of aerial work because that way we could pump out so much water,” Warnock said, noting Tolko had its own high lifts with guns to shoot water into the building. “We brought three apparatus and initially 20 firefighters, but after that first 25 hours I had to start letting guys rotate so they could go to work or get some sleep.”

United Steelworkers Union Local 2017 first vice-president Paul French said Monday the union is “kind of nervous,” but that employees are working on the planer today, just not in the sawmill.

“I know they are running three shifts at the planer and the trucks are still coming in,” French said. “I think they are trying to have people doing whatever they can. I haven’t talked to them yet to know what the numbers are, but Tolko is trying to accommodate their employees with work.”

Tolko’s woodlands manager Tom Hoffman said the assessment and investigation continues, but it would appear there is some damage to sawmill equipment, but most of the damage is structural to the building.

“The structural engineers were here on Sunday, and we are waiting for WorkSafeBC to allow us to go into the mill because we cannot send workers in there the way it is,” Hoffman said. “The plan is to tear the cladding off the roof and the siding to get a better view and understanding of how much damage there is and then we will go from there.”

Hoffman said the fire is a blow to the employees and operations.

“We’ve gone through a disastrous year this year with fires and then to have this happen is heartbreaking.”

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