The owners of family-run lumber business in Abbotsford that went up in flames Wednesday say they’re devastated by the loss.
“You can't prepare for something like this and it's pretty difficult to put into words how it devastates a small, family-run business,” said Sean Beasley, the general manager at Precision Custom Remanufacturing.
The massive industrial fire destroyed several buildings and snarled traffic after the flames spread to Highway 1.
Precision Custom Remanufacturing is located in the area of Mount Lehman Road and Fraser Way, just south of the Trans-Canada.
“It’s a kiln wood-drying facility and there’s lots of product inside the facility so that created quite a challenge for us,” Abbotsford Fire Chief Don Beer told CTV News.
Beasley said he first started receiving calls about the fire at about 5:30 p.m.
“They already had the perimeter blocked off, the roads blocked off and you're trying to explain to somebody that that's your livelihood going up in flames,” he said.
Firefighters focused their efforts on keeping the flames away from the neighbouring gas station.
Images from the scene showed a thick plume of smoke billowing from the area. Witnesses also reported hearing several explosions.
Staff at an RV business located nearby say they evacuated once propane tanks started blowing up.
“We were just coming in and it was crazy,” said Keegan Slee, one of the witnesses. “There was huge black smoke going over the highway. You couldn’t really see anything. It was crazy.”
That smoke blew across the Highway 1, carrying embers that sparked a large grass fire in the median.
“We actually had two fire scenes going on at the same time, so we re-deployed an engine and a tender to look after the fires along the highway and threw all the rest of the resources at (the mill fire)” Beer said.
Highway 1 was closed in both directions between 264 Street in Langley and Clearbrook Road in Abbotsford, forcing many drivers to pull into a nearby parking lot and wait to be let back onto the highway.
“They said you have to stay put,” said Jen Forest, one of the drivers. “My fear was I was going to be trapped somewhere. I didn’t know how to get out and people were starting to panic.”
The roadway was reopened shortly after 7 p.m., but was down to a single lane in each direction for several hours.
Firefighters worked through the night to control the blaze. By the time the smoke cleared Thursday morning, nearly every building in the area had been damaged.
“There’s a fair bit of damage to what would be the north end of the complex,” Beer said. “We were able to save a couple of buildings to the south side.”
Despite the loss, Beasley thanked fire crews for their work, saying the fire was “heartbreaking for me, but I have nothing but gratitude for the work they do.”
Beasley said he hopes to rebuild, but at this point, isn’t sure he’ll be able to.
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Ben Miljure and Maria Weisgarber