Cedar mill fire sparks evacuations in Maple Ridge

Neighbours want Hammond operation to deal with increasing sawdust

Homes near a century-old Maple Ridge cedar mill were evacuated early Thursday after a fire sparked in sawdust.

The Maple Ridge Fire Department rushed to Hammond Cedar around 5:30 a.m. after receiving a call about flames in the mill’s dust collection system.

By the time crews arrived, the fire had spread into a silo.

The fire department said the mill was concerned that the heat may cause the structure to explode.

“My concern was I didn’t know how big the event would be,” added Maple Ridge deputy fire chief Howard Exner.

“If they even blew a rivet off the side and it went through a window and hit somebody, that would be bad.”

As a precaution, Ridge Meadows RCMP moved to evacuate homes adjacent to the Interfor-owned mill.

Some residents were out of their houses for almost two hours.

The fire was put out by a built-in suppression system inside the silo, but flared up again later in the day.

“It became a non-event,” said Exner.

“The built-in systems were activated and any threat of a fire inside the dust collection silo was mitigated.”

People who live near the cedar mill, however, remained concerned that the operation has been generating increasing amounts of saw dust lately, affecting air quality.

“It’s landing on everything. It’s coating everything,” said Bert Pogany, whose home on Chigwell Street abuts the mill.

“If you wash your car, four hours later, you can spell your name in the dust that’s on your vehicle.”

Pogany alerted the District of Maple Ridge to the problem two months ago, but remains dissatisfied with the response he’s received from the bylaws department.

He believes the district and fire department are downplaying the seriousness of the incident as broadcast media initially reported evacuations didn’t occur.

A decade ago, Pogany, his family and neighbours were instrumental in getting the district, Metro Vancouver and Hammond Cedar to agree to an air action plan, which outlined what type of air quality testing is required and when it’s needed.

That plan has been forgotten, says Pogany, who has lived in his home for more than 30 years, since before the mill expanded.

“Two months ago, I was told all issues have been dealt and I should have no concerns. Guess what – that wasn’t the case this morning.”

Pogany, his wife and daughter, who lives next door, were rushed out of their homes by RCMP. They grabbed their most important possessions and made their way to an in-law’s house nearby.

Pogany stresses he does not want the mill closed, he just wants it to abide by the plan.

“They need to take us seriously without dismissing our concerns,” he added.

Metro Vancouver says the mill is in compliance, following stack testing in June. Interfor did not return a call for comment before deadline.

Inset photo: Sawdust which collected overnight on the windshield of Bert Pogany’s pickup truck.

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