Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Canadian Tough' Sawmill Workers Weep after Explosion, Fire Injures 19: 'Canadian Tough' Sawmill Workers Weep

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Canadian Tough' Sawmill Workers Weep after Explosion, Fire Injures 19: 'Canadian Tough' Sawmill Workers Weep

Article excerpt

BURNS LAKE, B.C. - Sam Tom is still shaking, almost a day after he saw the first flash and heard the first explosion.

The sound marked the start of a conflagration that levelled a sawmill, injured 19 -- four critically -- and left two coworkers missing in this northern B.C. community east of Prince George.

Tom, a 53-year-old employee of Babine Forest Products Ltd., said Saturday he's hasn't slept since Friday night, the trauma replaying over and over in his mind.

"I am devastated, I'm very hurt," Tom said during a telephone interview.

"A lot of my good friends are burned. A lot of guys that I know, work with."

"One (worker) came out trying to tear off his clothes. I tried to give him my jacket. He (said) 'No, I'm OK' and he went to his truck and got himself another jacket. He was burnt badly."

Police said the disaster that has shaken Burns Lake and its surrounding First Nations struck around 8:15 p.m. Friday, just after Tom said he had returned from a coffee break.

He said he was working outside on a loader, bringing logs up to the sawmill where they were to be cut before being taken to the separate planer mill on site. He had just finished a coffee break.

"Boom. Everything just went flying."

Chunks of metal and wood flew through the air.

With no time to think, not even about his own safety, Tom said he parked his loader and tried to run into the sawmill, but the flames were too hot and he couldn't get inside.

He said mill's walls were blown out, debris was everywhere and an entire crew was trapped inside.

Almost immediately, a handful of mill employees who either worked outside or at the planer mill, which wasn't destroyed, began a rescue effort.

"Everybody just took it on themselves to do whatever had to be done," he said.

Meantime, the explosions -- Tom said as many as five -- continued, but "there was no time to be scared."

With ground-floor exits at the sawmill non-existent, Tom said some crew had to jump from the second floor onto the ground.

He said he followed the sound of the screaming, helping one worker with a broken arm, another badly burned. …

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