COLDSTREAM - Employees at a lumber mill in Coldstream saw sudden, lightning-like flashes followed by flames after an electrical malfunction almost burnt down the entire facility.
Investigators believe they have found the cause of Tuesday’s vicious fire at Coldstream Lumber, just off Highway 6 on Ricardo Road.
Coldstream fire chief Shane Code says a combination of eye witness accounts and lab tests have left investigators convinced a catastrophic failure in the fuse boxes caused electrical arcing — discharges of current — which sparked the fire.
“With wood and dry materials all around, once it caught, it rolled,” Code says. “The initial attack team from the mill thought they could handle it with fire extinguishers but it was growing too fast and was too big for them to get a handle on it.”
Luckily, none of the approximately 20-30 employees who had just begun their shifts were seriously hurt. One person was taken to Vernon Jubilee Hospital for smoke inhalation.
“It could have been a lot worse, this could have killed people and done a lot of damage,” Code says.
He credits a fast response time, tireless crews and the cooperation of six different departments with suppressing the challenging fire. Surrounded by dry grasslands and farmer’s fields, a big concern was floating embers starting an interface fire.
“We had dead dry, mid-August conditions after a fairly robust summer of fires,” Code says.
Access was another issue; the road leading to the mill was narrow and attack points were limited. One crew was stationed by a set of railway tracks next to the mill, spraying water on the building. They had contacted CN to shut down the railway, yet in the middle of fire suppression, they heard a train.
“We had equipment on the tracks and a train coming,” Code says, adding the driver was able to pull the train to a stop before reaching the scene.
Getting water to the crews was also difficult. With no fire hydrant in the immediate vicinity, they had to shuttle it in from another corner of the property.
“We had five tenders from different fire departments shuttling the water, basically doing a Nascar loop, going as fast as they could to fill those tanks,” Code says.
Meanwhile, other firefighters were working to remove the many fuels — pallets and other wooden materials — from the path of the fire.
“I had just enough firefighters if everyone kept working and didn’t take a break we could do it. We were really fighting hard with what we had,” he says.
The kiln, where the fire started, was destroyed in the fire and about 10 per cent of the wood product at the mill was also lost. Code says there is hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
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