Explosions 'new territory' for beetle-ravaged lumber industry

Sawmill explosions in the B.C. Interior have thrown the province's forest industry into turmoil, raising concerns the mountain pine beetle's dam-age to the sector may be entering a new and more deadly phase.

The potential for dry beetle-killed wood to pose a safety hazard comes at a time when the industry is struggling to cope with pine beetle impact.

A report prepared before the explosive dust became an issue shows more sawmill closures and curtailments are on the way as the wood deteriorates in quality, leading to higher operating costs.

Did pine-beetle sawdust cause Prince George sawmill explosion?

Another deadly sawmill explosion will occur in B.C. unless wood dust is scooped up with specially designed equipment, says an engineer familiar with the problem.

``An explosion will happen again. Maybe tomorrow or six months from now,'' said Wayne Winkler.

He was commenting on similarities between two blasts in B.C. that have killed four workers and destroyed two plants in the past three months.


B.C. sawmill towns on edge over dust buildup that's suspect in two explosions

Workers heading to shifts at British Columbia sawmills after two recent, catastrophic explosions are worrying that the dust fluttering in the air like a sack of dropped flour means they're walking into a powder keg.

Four deaths and scores of traumatic burns and injuries have resulted from the fiery conflagrations at the north-central mills, which were processing trees so destroyed by the mountain pine beetle they were long dead before harvest.

The independent agency that looks after worker safety ordered Thursday that B.C.'s 300 or so mills immediately get a grip on any dust problems.


Sawmill dust levels under scrutiny

Forest industry officials are asking researchers based at the University of British Columbia to determine what role aging pine beetle wood, and the fine dust it produces when milled, may have played in two recent explosions at sawmills in northern B.C.

“This wood is dry,” said John Allan, president of the Council of Forrest Industries, referring to pine beetle wood that has been standing dead for extended periods of time and produces an extremely fine dust when cut.

Experts have long known that dust of all kinds in confined spaces can lead to deadly explosions, but until recently the fine dust created by dry pine beetle wood had not been singled out as a possible high risk for combustion.

B.C. government orders ‘top-to-bottom’ inspection at sawmills

The provincial government has ordered B.C. sawmills to review sawdust buildup in their mills as part of a comprehensive safety inspection, after the second explosion of a northern sawmill in three months.

Sawmills must conduct “top-to-bottom” safety inspections, B.C. Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said.

Investigators have been looking into the possibility that elevated dust levels arising from the cutting of dry, pine beetle-ravaged wood could have been a factor in the explosion of the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake last January. Two workers died.


Milling mountain pine beetle wood may pose fire risk

There may be something about logs that come from mountain pine beetle killed trees that's caused explosions and fires at two British Columbia sawmills, Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson said today.

"There is growing anecdotal evidence that MPB killed logs may be producing combustible materials that interior sawmills were not designed to address," said a prepared statement from Simpson, who sits as an independent.

He made the comments after an April 23 fire at the Lakeland Mill in Prince George, which killed one worker and injured 24. In January an explosion and fire destroyed the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake and killed two workers.

Explosions set off review of all B.C. mills

Two deadly explosions in northern British Columbia sawmills in recent months have prompted a sweeping review of safety in all sawmills in the province and raised concerns about whether the extremely fine dust from pine-beetle ravaged timber is part of the problem.

Forest industry and government officials will meet Wednesday to review safety issues after Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid called for the provincewide safety check.

Shift supervisor Alan Little, 43, died Tuesday after being rushed to hospital following a massive blast at the Lakeland sawmill in Prince George on Monday night. The explosion caused a ferocious fire and sent 10 others to hospital with serious or critical injuries.


Bark Beetle Management and Ecology in Southern Pine Forests

Periodic outbreaks of bark beetles can cause annual losses of millions of dollars and pose serious challenges for forest managers, and the suppression of outbreaks is particularly difficult and expensive.

According to T. D. Schowalter, author of a new open-access article in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management, preventative measures are most effective in minimizing losses to these beetles, and several factors should be considered in planning bark beetle management in southern pine forests.

First, managers should consider the fact that the effects of these beetles on ecosystem services are not necessarily destructive and, in some cases, may contribute to management objectives in multiple-use forests. Second, these beetles are controlled naturally by environmental factors that can be manipulated through management practices.

B.C. plan would open Interior’s protected woods for logging

Old-growth forests, wildlife corridors and other long-protected timber zones in the British Columbia Interior could be opened up to logging in order to keep mills operating, according to a cabinet document detailing a proposal under consideration by the provincial government.

The document, stamped “Confidential Advice to Cabinet,” was prepared for Forests Minister Steve Thomson earlier this month.

It proposes shifting forest management from a stewardship model to one that puts short-term economic interests first – but warns that such a dramatic policy change could trigger legal challenges and that it might meet with opposition from B.C.’s chief forester.

A Shocking Glimpse of BC's New Forest Plan

For more than a quarter century, logging companies at the government's blessing have been on a tear through British Columbia's expansive interior forests.

In the name of "salvaging" economic value from forests attacked by mountain pine beetles, beginning with a smaller outbreak centered in the Williams Lake area in the 1980s and followed by the much larger beetle epidemic that erupted a decade ago, millions more trees have been logged than would otherwise have been the case.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the issue has known for years that this spelled trouble. A catastrophic "falldown" in future logging rates loomed because the industry was literally cutting out the ground from beneath its own feet. But the illusion of abundance was sustained as the beetle attacks spread and more timber became available on a one-time basis only to salvage log.


Energy-Charged Epidemic

Letting nature take its course has historically been one of the most effective ways to deal with natural disasters, as oftentimes these matters are out of the hands of mankind. Occasionally, however, there are ways to mitigate these occurrences while drawing value from them.

The great pine beetle outbreak of the Rocky Mountain West is a good example. The epidemic has swept across the forests of Colorado and Wyoming, devouring more than 3.5 million acres of forests, and it stretches all the way from Mexico to British Columbia, where more than 40 million acres are infested.

While there’s been no way to stop the epidemic, the worst in recorded history, huge efforts are being made to manage the affected forests to prevent forest fires. The harvested beetle-killed wood is being used for a variety of applications, including unique furniture, wood chips and wood pellets for heat and power production.