Mill Explosion: Premier Clark orders review of Burns Lake case

Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake Jan. 20, 2012, after dry wood dust exploded and caused a fire that killed two employees and injured 20 others. - Laura Blackwell/Lakes District News
Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake Jan. 20, 2012, after dry wood dust exploded and caused a fire that killed two employees and injured 20 others.
— image credit: Laura Blackwell/Lakes District News

Premier Christy Clark has ordered an internal review of the decision not to lay charges after the fatal explosion and fire in Burns Lake.

Clark has directed her deputy minister John Dyble to review the circumstances that led to the decision. WorkSafeBC's investigation has been criticized after Crown prosecutors said some of their evidence would not be admissible in court because of the way it was gathered.

Clark announced the internal review Thursday at the Truck Loggers' Association convention in Vancouver.

Clark emphasized that the review is not to second-guess the independent decision of the criminal justice branch, "but if there are lessons to be learned from this, I want to make sure that we learn them."

Two workers died and 20 more were injured in the explosion and fire at Burns Lake. A province-wide program of sawmill dust inspections has been in place since the Babine mill explosion in January 2012 and a similar blast at Lakeland Mills in Prince George three months later.

NDP leader Adrian Dix said there should be a review, but Dyble is not the right person to do it because he reports to the premier. The investigation was "bungled," and cabinet ministers also intervened to keep a B.C. Safety Authority report on the situation from being made public before last May's election, he said.

"Somebody independent should address the question of what happened here, why the government acted in this way, why information that should have been made public wasn't, and why charges weren't brought because of the inability of government agencies to to work together in the correct way," Dix said.

WorkSafeBC also released its final report on the explosion Thursday, and is considering orders and penalties for the owners of the Babine Forest Products mill, which is being rebuilt.

WorkSafeBC investigators concluded that the explosion was preventable. They found that the company knew its dust collection system was under-sized, but the mill increased production before an electrical upgrade was completed.

The report said there was "considerable work" done to the mill's dust management system and improving the waste conveyor system, which was the likely the ignition source for the dry dust from pine beetle-killed lumber.

It also found that "no adequate actions were taken to reduce or control the levels of airborne wood dust, even though this was the root cause of the violation cited in December 2011."


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