An investigation is underway after an early morning fire sparked inside the new Skeena BioEnergy pellet plant on Hwy 16 Saturday morning.
A small fire started on the belt of the sawmill’s flatbed dryer, which lays out the material and dries it out with temperatures reaching a maximum of 110 degrees. It was detected around 2:12 a.m. on May 25 using safety monitoring technology installed in the system and was quickly extinguished.
Staff then carried out emergency response training and were joined by Terrace and Thornhill fire departments, with seven firefighters from Terrace, four from Thornhill.
The sawmill does have a system to prevent any sparks or fires from spreading. Hot spots can be detected by sensors set up throughout the process.
Single sparks can be extinguished using water, but if seven sparks are detected, the system shuts down the entire process. High-pressure bottles with baking soda fire automatically when alerted to the slightest pressure changes to quell an explosion as it starts.
However, one of the three fire suppression systems failed, allowing the fire to grow larger than it should have before the two other systems kicked it.
“Otherwise, it would have been serious,” says Skeena Sawmills vice-president Roger Keery. “We’re reviewing how the system works and reviewing the changes we have to make to make sure this never happens again.”
Firefighters worked with staff on site to ensure there was no further damage, though. Terrace fire chief Dave Jephson says moving around the machinery made the fire challenging.
“It was tough to try and get in [to the dryer] and make sure the fire didn’t spread, that’s always our most important thing that we prevent further damage,” says Jephson.
Crews left the scene just after 6 a.m. that morning. One person was taken to hospital for observation but has since been released and is now back at work.
The fire happened during the pellet plant’s commissioning phase.
The damages to the dryer area, worth at least $50,000, is expected to delay production for an estimated three weeks until the parts needed are delivered and replaced.
The fire was a learning experience for officials, Keery says. A camera inside of the dryer also captured the entire event so staff can understand exactly what happened.
“We have a pretty safe, reliable business here. So we’re going to use this as a way to make sure these systems are working and doing what we want,” Keery says. “I don’t want to see these events happen, every time that they do you have to learn something and improve it, so that’s what we’re going to do here.”
Skeena Sawmills, located adjacent to the pellet plant, is not impacted and will operate as usual.