Update: Penticton mill fire had explosive potential

Firefighters battled flames that leapt to life from the sawdust falling out of a hopper Friday afternoon at Greenwood Forest Products. - Joe Fries/Western News
Firefighters battled flames that leapt to life from the sawdust falling out of a hopper Friday afternoon at Greenwood Forest Products.
— image credit: Joe Fries/Western News


It took firefighters four hours Friday to snuff out a potentially explosive situation at a Penticton lumber mill.

Sawdust contained in a hopper that’s used to load transport trucks caught fire around 1:30 p.m. and the flames eventually worked their way into a second hopper beside it at Greenwood Forest Products.

“This right now throughout B.C. is quite a big thing (these) hopper fires and dust fires,” Capt. Ken Fotherby of the Penticton Fire Department said Saturday.

Fotherby said Greenwood’s workers were able Friday to slowly release sawdust from the hoppers, so firefighters could douse the material as it fell out.

“There was quite a bit of fine dust in (the hoppers) and we did have quite a few explosions as it dropped out, but everything was soaked down with water and foam really well, so as (sawdust) came out it exploded for a second and then it was put out immediately,” he explained.

Fotherby said his crew of about 20 people wrapped up around 6 p.m., and the initial attack was purposely delayed to await the arrival of 16 paid on-call firefighters. He said the fire may have been caused by an overheated mechanical part inside the hoppers.

Greenwood Forest Products president Wade Walker said in a statement that the mill returned to full operations Monday and repairs are expected to be completed in the next few weeks. Walker praised the fire department’s quick, professional response, which he said kept damage to a minimum.

WorkSafeBC spokesperson Donna Freeman said her agency sent an investigator to the mill on Saturday.

“We would be attending this regardless, but certainly we have a focus on sawmills,” she said.

Last year, explosions at two mills in northern B.C. killed four people.


The Penticton Fire Department spent most of Friday afternoon combatting flames in two hoppers at Greenwood Forest Products.

It's believed the hoppers contained sawdust and are used to load haul trucks.

Fighters were called to the mill on Green Mountain Road around 2 p.m and sprayed the metal hoppers with foam and water as sawdust trickled out the bottom of the bins and briefly caught fire.

A man who escorted a Western News reporter off the property declined comment.

Fire crews were still on the scene at 4:30 p.m.



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