Employees weren’t five minutes into their morning break when dark smoke started seeping from one of the kilns at Coldstream Lumber Tuesday.
Vinton Rickett, a forklift driver at the Ricardo Road mill, was quick to alert everyone to the blaze.
“I saw smoke and yelled fire,” said Rickett, who has no idea how the fire was sparked since the kilns were shut down and, thankfully, no one was in the building at the time.
There were also reports of an explosion and electrical breakers blowing.
As smoke continued to pour from the structure, workers actively fought the fire with small hoses until firefighters arrived.
“One of our initial attack crew was taken to hospital with smoke inhalation,” said Rickett.
The call, which came in before 9 a.m., drew firefighters from Coldstream, Lavington, Lumby and BX-Swan Lake, as well as B.C. Ambulance, Terasen Gas and assistance, including an excavator, from the District of Coldstream.
“With a fire like this, with this much fuel, in mid-August, with it being this dry, there’s no point in taking any chances,” said Coldstream Fire Chief Shane Code.
“We just needed to put a lot of big water on a big fire.”
Initially the fire was contained to the building, but was spewing smoke which was visible from Vernon.
“It was the ugliest colour smoke you’ll ever see,” said one witness.
Coldstream Lumber employee Cal Scheske recalls seeing: “Lots of flame and lots of smoke coming from out of our kiln which is not a good thing.
“It’s definitely scary,” said Scheske. “I’ve worked in mills all my life and it’s the first fire I’ve ever seen in a mill.”
As Scheske and the other employees stood on scene watching the firefighters battle the blaze, there were some concerns about how the damage would impact their jobs.
But Scheske is confident any interruption will be temporary.
“We’ll probably be up and running in no time.”
While the heat of the blaze melted the front of the giant white canopy, fire crews managed to quarantine the fire to the kiln building.
But there were concerns of collapse, as one wall had fallen down.
No cause of the fire is known at this time as the blaze remains under investigation.
“It’s too early to tell, the workers couldn’t tell us anything,” said Code.
As firefighters battled the blaze throughout the day and continued to monitor the site into the night, Code is grateful for the assistance of all, including B.C. Ambulance.
“They’ve done a great job of taking care of folks and making sure that our firefighters are rested and hydrated and make sure that the workers who were on scene are treated and assessed.”