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Workers return to burnt Coldstream lumber mill

A bad fire broke out at Coldstream Lumber Aug. 12 but firefighters were able to save most of the facility and employees returned to work Aug. 20.
August 20, 2014 - 5:05 PM

VERNON - The employees of a Coldstream business are back at work after fire forced them from their posts August 12.

Coldstream Lumber president Johnal Lee says all 40 workers were back in the building Wednesday morning.

“We’re super happy,” Lee says. “We were under a lot of stress because of the impact, number one to our employees and number two to our customers, who were expecting shipments of lumber and us not knowing what to tell them. It created a lot of pain and anxiety for a lot of people and a lot of lost sleep.”

The company hoped to be up and running by August 15 or 18; they had completed all necessary repairs but were still waiting for the power to be turned on. Lee says there were some difficulties getting in touch with B.C. Hydro which contributed to the delay.

B.C. Hydro spokesperson Dag Sharman says the problem was sourcing replacement transformers.

“We hoped by replacing one we’d be able get the power back on, but we needed to replace three,” Sharman says. “The issue became finding them, they’re 480 volts which are obsolete in the B.C. Hydro system.”

Eventually, one was found in Vernon and two others were located elsewhere in the province. B.C. Hydro hooked up power to the plant Tuesday night. 

Now that operations have resumed, Lee says the next challenge will be replacing two kilns destroyed in the fire, valued at close to a million dollars.

“In winter it (kiln) is key to probably two thirds of our operations. Wood needs to be dried before we can further process it,” Lee says. “Come winter it will impact us in a big way — we’re sure trying to get some by then.”

Fire investigators believe the blaze was caused by a catastrophic failure in the fuse boxes near the kilns, which caused electrical arcing (discharges of current).

“The fire was a shock to us,” Lee says. “We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doing all the upgrading we can to make the building a safe place. We don’t understand why these fuse boxes failed. The panel that set on fire was only a year old.”

The fire broke out fast, producing large flames in minutes. Employees tried put out the blaze with fire extinguishers but it was too much for them. Multiple fire departments, including Coldstream, Lavington and Lumby, came to help fight the blaze.

“I believe it was their expertise and teamwork that saved our whole mill,” Lee says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © iNFOnews, 2014

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