Mill explosion prompts wild fire prevention project

Editor’s note: Jim Hilton’s most recent column ran with the wrong byline. This is an encore edition from last week, with proper credit. Enjoy.

Most people in the small town of Burns Lake (pop. 2000 +) will remember the night of Jan. 20, 2012 when the Babine Forest Products mill exploded, killing two people and injuring 19 more. After a two year study by Work Safe BC it was determined that the dry Mountain Pine Beetle timber along with undersized dust control equipment caused the explosion. Two months later a similar accident in Prince George also killed two people.

These two explosions along with others prompted the provincial government to call for measures to prevent these incidents from happening again with millions being spent on mills throughout B.C.

In the case of the Burns Lake mill a million dollar fine was levied on the owners but no criminal charges were laid. Needless to say the disaster was devastating for the hundreds of workers who lost their jobs but the good news is the mill was rebuilt and has recently opened again. Burns lake has had its share of wood dust explosions with another one in 2014 at the Pinnacle wood pellet plant where three were injured but no one killed.

Another note worthy story coming from Burns Lake is the near completion of a wild fire prevention project described by Jim Stirling in the (Aug, Sept 2017) Logging and Sawmilling Journal. No doubt the planners were thinking about the impact on the community during the shutdown of the lumber mill and requested additional funds from the Forest Enhancement Society which provides dollars for wildfire mitigation projects. This provincial government agency was started in 2016 with an initial $85 million budget and charged with preventing and mitigating wild fires, improving damaged forests and helping create jobs.

The project area is south east of the Burns Lake village and lies within the Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF). The key criteria for obtaining funds includes identifying wild fire risks, wildlife habitat enhancement and fibre recovery which fit the objectives of the local planners. The area which was to be treated had no previous forest industry activity and was composed of aspen, dead pine and spruce and measured more than 200 meters wide and six to eight kilometres long.

Facilities at risk which will be easier to protect from wild fires after the project include: the recently rebuilt Babine Forest Products mill, the adjacent Sheraton Custom Milling operation, Pinnacle wood pellet plant and a power transmission line. Some patches have been identified for wild life enhancement while others will be dedicated to fibre recovery. There will also be an increase in the Allowable Annual Cut for a four-year period to help deal with the increased volume of timber from harvesting.

The author goes on to describe how BLCF management is embarking on accreditation with the Forest Stewardship Council and is using a new Lidar system to create a comprehensive timber supply review. Lidar is a relatively new air born sensing system that can collect fast and accurate tree and terrain data for development of comprehensive forest management models.

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