B.C. sawmills face uncertain futures after explosions
Published Tuesday, April 24, 2012 6:10PM PDT
A B.C. forestry expert is optimistic that the Prince George sawmill that exploded Monday night will be rebuilt, despite the discouraging fates of mills involved in similar tragedies.
One man was killed and 10 others were sent to hospital when the Lakeland Sawmill went up in flames during the evening shift. The massive blaze levelled the facility, but University of B.C. forestry professor Harry Nelson says there's hope it may rise from the ashes.
"I think there's a good chance this mill would get rebuilt. Lakelands is a well-run operation. They've got a good timber supply and it's a good location, so those all work in its favour," he told CTV News.
The future of the Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake, about 230 kilometres northwest of Prince George, is less promising. Two men were killed when that sawmill exploded in January, and four months later there's no word on its fate.
"Burns Lake, with the reduction in harvest levels coming down there -- and looking forward it's likely going to fall again -- there's just not really enough wood out there right now to sustain that mill if you rebuilt it," Nelson said.
Hampton Affiliates, which owns the Burns Lake mill, is realistic about the future.
"Depending on how much volume is available, that will affect how large a sawmill you can construct," CEO Steve Zika said.
"If it becomes too small, it's tough to compete on a global stage."
Infestations of the mountain pine beetle have already reduced the lumber supply in B.C., and other sawmills destroyed by fire in recent years have not been rebuilt.
When a Prince George plywood plant was ruined in 2008, Canfor used the insurance money to upgrade mills elsewhere. The Tolko mill at Louis Creek wasn't rebuilt after it was levelled in the 2003 McLure wildfire, either.
But Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Pat Bell says the industry is still going strong.
"Forestry is anything but a sunset industry. In fact, there are tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in major facilities," he told reporters in Victoria.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Scott Roberts