Sawmill explosions add urgency to B.C. forest crisis

Safety inspectors will be checking B.C. sawmills this week for dangerous levels of combustible dust after two deadly mill explosions, while the provincial government is poised to address the other crisis facing the forest industry – a dwindling supply of wood because of the mountain pine beetle.

Tensions are mounting about the government’s proposal to free up protected forests to logging, a plan conceived to respond to the first explosion in Burns Lake three months ago.

The unprecedented safety inspections were ordered based on suspicions that processing dry wood killed by pine beetles is creating a more combustible dust in sawmills, putting workers at risk across B.C.’s northern and Interior communities. The cause of the explosions at Burns Lake in January and last week at the Lakeland Mill in Prince George has not been determined, but both were cutting large amounts of beetle-killed logs.