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Crown to consider charges related to two sawmill fires

Having completed investigation reports into sawmill fires earlier this year in Prince George and Burns Lake, WorkSafe BC has referred both matters to Crown counsel for further consideration.

"The Crown will assess the significance of the violations of the Workers Compensation Act," said Roberta Ellis, WorkSafe BC's vice president of corporate services, in a conference call with reporters.

The January explosion and fire that destroyed the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake killed two workers and injured 20. The April 23 fire at the Lakeland Mill in Prince George killed two workers and injured 22.

Ellis declined to say what WorkSafe believes the violations to have been, other than that they were under part three of the act.

For a first conviction, the Workers Compensation Act allows for a fine of up to nearly $653,000 and/or up to six months in jail.

WorkSafe investigators believe both fires to have started with sawdust, but other factors also played a role. In both cases mill doors and windows were closed due to the cold weather, which contained the fuel, dropped humidity and reduced ventilation, said Jeff Dolan, WorkSafe's director of investigations.

Hampton Affiliates, which owns the Burns Lake mill, is considering rebuilding but is seeking a guaranteed supply of timber from the B.C. government before making its decision. Premier Christy Clark said in April that she is open to allowing the cutting of old growth and other previously protected areas to feed the mill.

Following the WorkSafe news conference, Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson asked on Twitter why the provincial government would "turn forest policy on its head" when the company may be implicated in the fire.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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