Gas leak sends Tolko mill workers scrambling

RCMP officers prevent traffic from using Otter Lake Cross Road, at Highway 97A, Friday because of a natural gas leak at Tolko Industries. - lisa vandervelde/morning star
RCMP officers prevent traffic from using Otter Lake Cross Road, at Highway 97A, Friday because of a natural gas leak at Tolko Industries.
— image credit: lisa vandervelde/morning star

Tolko officials didn’t mess around when natural gas started spewing into the air at the Spallumcheen mill Friday.

At about 7:45 a.m., a four-inch natural gas line ruptured after it was struck by heavy machinery working on the south side of the plywood plant.

About 40  people were immediately evacuated to a safe location.

“We were right at shift change,” said Rob Fraser, general manager of Okanagan operations. “It was very much a precautionary measure.”

Otter Lake Cross Road was closed down to traffic by the RCMP to ensure the safety of motorists.

Besides Fortis, volunteer members of the Armstrong-Spallumcheen Fire Department were also on scene to provide assistance.

The one thing that helped with reducing the potential risk was the weather.

“We had favourable winds and it was blowing the gas away,” said Fraser.

By 11:30 a.m., Fortis staff had pinched off the gas line and repairs were being made.

The plywood crew was sent back to work at that point and the road was reopened to traffic.

Fraser says he is pleased with how his staff responded to the situation and he has strong praise for the Fortis crew and  the fire department.

“Particularly with natural gas you have to take precautions and you need to get people in there who are experts,” he said.

Tolko’s cogeneration facility and lumber mill continued operating during the incident.


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