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Ruskin mill fire may have been electrical

A fire destroyed the Waldun Group
A fire destroyed the Waldun Group's cedar mill in Maple Ridge early Sunday. At the height of the blaze, flames were seen stretching about 100 feet into the night sky.
— image credit: Shane MacKichen/Black Press

The investigation into the fire that destroyed a Ruskin cedar shake mill indicates it may have been electrical in nature.

The blaze started shortly after midnight Sunday at the Waldun Forest Products mill on 287th Street and Lougheed Highway in Ruskin, near the Mission border.

Investigators from the Maple Ridge Fire Department believe the fire started in an area of the mill where maintenance work was being done Saturday.

Curtis Walker, a partner with Waldun Forest Products, said the company is looking at the possibility the fire may have been electrical.

“But nothing has been determined yet,” he added.

Maple Ridge assistant fire chief Mark Smitton confirmed an electrical problem is one of the likely scenarios being looked at.

Smitton added the fire is not being considered suspicious.

He was the first to arrive at the fire and found the mill already engulfed in flames. At the height of the blaze, flames stretched 30 metres into the night sky and could be seen from as far away as Abbotsford.

Smitton said firefighters managed to contain the fire to the mill and protected a workshop and equipment nearby. A lack of fire hydrants and collapsing hydro lines hampered the initial attack.

Mission Fire/Rescue Service’s tanker trucks were called in to help supply water.

No one was injured in the fire, which was called in by a night watchman, the only employee on site when the fire started.

“Thank goodness no one was hurt,” said Walker.

He added that safety at the mill has always been a top priority.

“We’re a very safe company, and we take safety very seriously.”

WorkSafeBC has conducted seven inspections of the mill since June of 2009, and found no fire hazards.

However, the mill had yet to be inspected under Phase 2 of WorkSafeBC’s Combustible Dust Strategy, created in response to catastrophic explosions in Burns Lake and Prince George earlier this year, according to spokesperson Donna Freeman.

WorkSafeBC has already inspected 173 saw mills across the province as part of Phase 1, and is currently inspecting planer mills, cedar shake mills, and engineered wood product mills under Phase 2, which began in July.

Last week, WorkSafeBC announced testing showed all wood dust, not just beetle-killed wood dust, could pose a “high risk for explosion when dispersed and ignited in air,” and must be rigorously managed by sawmills.

The Maple Ridge Fire Department inspected the Waldun mill last year, and found nothing out of the ordinary, Smitton said.

“From what I understand, they had a very good program for cleaning [up sawdust],” he said.

However, the mill was built in 1974, before a Maple Ridge bylaw requiring sprinklers. Had the mill been retrofitted with a sprinkler system, that could have mitigated the damage form the fire, Smitton said.

While there are other mills in the area without sprinkler systems, he said currently there is no plan to require retrofitting.

The mill also received Safety Accord Forestry Enterprise (SAFE) certification by the B.C. Forest Safety Council.

The family-run mill had been in operation in Ruskin for almost 40 years.

It was built in 1974 by Wynn Walker. According to the company website, Walker eventually merged three mills to form the Waldun Group. Waldun Forest Products is now one of the largest operations in the shake and shingle industry.

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