Firefighters from Maple Ridge spray water on a fire that engulfed Watkins sawmill on Lougheed Highway in Aug. 2011.

Watkins Sawmills sues Maple Ridge

Mill claims fire department arrived 20 to 30 minutes after the Aug. 2011 blaze broke out

A $3.5-million civil claim has been filed against the District of Maple Ridge, an engineering company and a sawmill maintenance company, following a huge fire two years ago that destroyed a cedar shingle mill.

Watkins Sawmills Ltd., filed the claim in B.C. Supreme Court, Aug. 19, saying the  Aug. 11, 2011 blaze destroyed the mill on 9414 – 288th St. where wall shingles were made.

According to the 14-page claim, welding sparks from a contractor working on a paint line platform ignited cardboard, sawdust and wood which started a flameless, slow burn.

That continued for hours before bursting into flame and destroying two buildings.

Toronto lawyer Pam Pengelley said the claim has been filed to meet the two-year deadline.

It hasn’t been sent to the three defendants because it’s not certain if a lawsuit will go ahead.

“A decision hasn’t been yet as to whether a claim will proceed.

“We’ve six months or a year to serve it, after it’s filed. It just gives us additional time to investigate … and make a decision about whether it’s going forward. So that’s really all it is at this point.”

The claim says the $3.5 million in damages arises from debris cleanup, building repairs, security costs, fire and smoke damage, repairs to power lines and other utilities as well liability to third parties also affected by the fire.

It also says that the Maple Ridge Fire Department didn’t arrive at the mill until about 20 or 30 minutes after the blaze broke out early that morning.

It also says before that day that the fire department’s server wasn’t working properly resulting in dispatch messages not being properly received.

The claim continues that the fire department had been working on the water supply and fire hydrant system in the area and didn’t warn Watkins Sawmills about water supply issues and “malfunctioning fire hydrants in the area of the facility.”

As well, it says Watkins wasn’t warned about “water supply and fire suppression equipment” and didn’t remedy the situation.

However, the District of Maple Ridge has no fire hydrants in the area because water lines only reach as far as 248th Street. There is a “dry” hydrant in the area which is connected to a pipe that runs to the Stave River. For that to become active, a fire truck has to pump water from the river into the pipe, to provide water at the hydrant.

Both Maple Ridge building inspection department and the engineering company, which designed the building, are blamed for failing to ensure the mill met the building code.

The claim also says both the municipality and the firm employed “incompetent engineers, building permit inspectors, employees, agents, contractors and consultants with inadequate knowledge, education, training … which led to a “dangerous situation.”

The claim says the Maple Ridge Fire Department for not getting to the fire “in a reasonable and timely manner,” and for not warning Watkins of its “inability to respond to fires within a reasonable” time.

In another section labeled as “Other issues” the claim describes the fire as “severe” and “catastrophic” that caused millions of dollars of damage posed environmental concerns.

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