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Sawmill Explosions Linked to Climate Change

Sawmill Explosions Linked to Climate Change
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Two died and 22 more were injured in an April 24th blast that ripped through the Lakeland sawmill in Prince George, British Columbia. In the immediate aftermath, the most important issues were how to comfort grieving families and how to deal with the sudden loss of one of the town’s major employers. But questions about climate change’s part in the disaster are surfacing.

The Prince George RCMP Media Relations Officer reported 49 workers were in Lakeland Mills when an explosion ripped through the plant around 9:45 p.m. The 25 in the planer mill escaped uninjured. The rest suffered injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to severe burns.

Workers in the province’s timber industry have reason to be nervous. Lakeland was the second northern B.C. sawmill to explode in two months. The first was Babine Forest Products outside of Burns Lake, B.C. Two men died in that blast as well. Another 19 were injured. About 250 people, nearly ten percent of the small town’s population, were thrown out of work. Every family in the tight-knit community was affected.

Climate Change May Be the Cause

As investigators track down the cause of the blasts, they may find the mills and their workers were casualties of climate change. The level of dust in both mills was high.

Anyone who has worked in or around a mill knows sawdust is a constant hazard. Only thorough, daily cleaning of buildings and equipment keeps the risk to acceptable levels.

Or at least it did until northern B.C.’s winters stopped being cold and snowy enough to ensure healthy forests and keep the mountain pine beetle in check. Bitterly cold winters, when the temperature dips to -40° C, help contain the insect’s spread. So do strong trees. With diminishing snow packs, trees lack sufficient water to endure summer drought conditions. The weakened trees are attractive hosts for the beetles. Beetle-killed trees are dry. Dry timber generates much more sawdust.

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Photo of explosion from video posted by DANGLER76; photo of beetle-killed trees from V Smoothe via Flickr Creative Commons

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43 comments

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12:21PM PDT on May 3, 2012

thanks for sharing

11:35AM PDT on May 3, 2012

Funny how when a winter is extra warm people claim climate change, and when it's unseasonably cold like 2 years ago, they claim that's also caused by global warming. WTH?

10:31AM PDT on Apr 29, 2012

My deepest sympathies to all the families that lost loved ones to these explosions.

Sawdust is very unsafe, and especially when cutting trees that were dryed out from the beetle infestations. I am interested in knowing if the huge sawdust piles were constantly being watered down, and if they become extremely hot? If watering down would have helped stop the inferno??
Thank you for posting and the video Cathryn.

2:08AM PDT on Apr 28, 2012

Thanks for the article, a really interesting

11:05PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

The insect world and the impact of a warming earth will have huge consequences on us - malaria and dengue fever zones are growing ,cricket plagues , ticks and lyme disease, termites , aphids and diseases in bee colonies...we have NO idea how insects run our planet and harvest plants we rely on .
If all we can think of is pesticide - we will be cactus.

7:42PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

Lydia P. While I agree with your fundamental sense of idealism, all the rest is in the clouds.
As far as nature recycling the dead, it is often referred to as...forest fires."

As for you last sentence, I can only say...WOW!

5:58PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

They can soak the wood before milling to cut down on the dust. I believe we should harvest the dead trees at let the green ones live on.

4:12PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

What a load of crap!

I'll tell you what caused the explosions - human error and negligence - nothing more, nothing less!

Stop trying to blame every little thing on climate change! Climate change may be a reality - but responsible for sawmill explosions????

Get real!

4:10PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

Climate change is not only a reality, it is causing thing to happen we never thought of before. The mills used to mostly cut green wood, and saw dust wasn't such a issue. Now with all the dry wood safety conditions have changed.
Some people do not understand how connected we all are to the rest of this planet. The beetle caused the death of trees that caused them to create dry saw dust when cut. Then along with very dry temperatures, the dust will explode with any sparks. The beetles are prolific because of the warmer temperatures. The over cutting of the trees helped cause the temperatures to rise.
We are not alone on this planet, there are others.
Climate change does occur through the ages, but we have caused it to happen faster.

4:09PM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

Climate change is not only a reality, it is causing thing to happen we never thought of before. The mills used to mostly cut green wood, and saw dust wasn't such a issue. Now with all the dry wood safety conditions have changed.
Some people do not understand how connected we all are to the rest of this planet. The beetle caused the death of trees that caused them to create dry saw dust when cut. Then along with very dry temperatures, the dust will explode with any sparks. The beetles are prolific because of the warmer temperatures. The over cutting of the trees helped cause the temperatures to rise.
We are not alone on this planet, there are others.
Climate change does occur through the ages, but we have caused it to happen faster.

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